Categories
AT weapons Swiss AT guns

Solothurn S 18-1000

Switzerland (1939)
Anti-Tank Rifle – around 1,000 produced

The Solothurn S 18-1000 was a Swiss-built 20 mm Anti-Tank rifle which was an upgraded version of the earlier S 18-100. It saw service in both the Axis and Allied forces and was deployed in many theatres of operations through the war. Despite its weight and size, it was appreciated by the troops that used it.

An S 18-154. Source: Sa Kuva

Design and Development

When the Treaty of Versaille was signed on 28th June 1919, the once magnificent German arms industry found itself under considerable restrictions. One of these restrictions was on the development of large caliber weapons capable of taking out tanks, similar to the TankGewehr M1918 developed by Mauser during the First World War.
To bypass these restrictions, Rheinmetall set up a subsidiary in Switzerland in 1929, Waffenfabrik Solothurn. This meant that German engineers could design, test and build weapons without the worry of the victorious Allied powers faulting on Germany for not holding to the Versailles Treaty. In 1930, they had developed the 20×138mmB cartridge or ‘Short Solothurn’, which was one of the most powerful 20 mm rounds in existence at the time and remained in use until the early 1950s. Soon after the development of the 20 mm cartridge, the Solothurn ST-5 anti-aircraft gun was produced and, from here, Solothurn started a journey that saw the development of many weapons, all using the 20 mm Solothurn round. The first foray into anti-tank weapons was the 2 cm Tankbuchse S 5-100 in 1932, which was an offshoot of the ST-5 and was impractical for its intended use, which meant it was not fully developed. In 1933, development started on a more practical anti-tank weapon, the S 18-100. This 44 kg, bull-pup, hard-hitting gun was placed on the export market in 1934 and was soon picked up by Italy, Hungary, and the Netherlands to name but a few.
It was decided in the late 1930s that the S 18-100 series needed a more substantial upgrade (previously the S18-100 saw minor improvements in the S 18-150, S 18-154 and S 18-500). Using the improved 20×138mmB cartridge, also known as the ‘Long Solothurn’, and adding a longer barrel, a ‘harmonica’ style muzzle break, improved action and some other minor modifications, a newer, more hard-hitting version of the Solothurn was created. The weapon worked on a short recoil system, meaning that the barrel moved slightly backward when fired. Because of the large recoil spring, it required a ratchet crank in order to pull the bolt back to set it up for operations. Once the bolt was pulled back, a magazine could then be loaded. When fired, the barrel recoiled, moving the attached rotary bolt and unlocking the bolt which then ejected the spent casing. The bolt is then driven forward by the large spring, loading a fresh cartridge from the magazine. Like many anti-tank rifles of the time, it came with an integrated bipod, which allowed for some recoil absorption, and a single adjustable monopod to the rear just ahead of the cushioned butt plate. These modifications increased the weight from a substantial 45 kg to a hefty 53 kg and saw Solothurn develop the SO9 carriage for it. This was a simple two-wheeled carriage which had space for two ammunition boxes and allowed for free traverse. It also had the ability to change the elevation through a screw. The split trails could be flipped forward and locked together to allow the gun team to move the gun with ease to a new position.

A brochure picture of a Swiss soldier firing an S 18-1000 on the SO 9 carriage. Source:- Axishistory
During Solothurn’s trials in 1939, it performed quite respectfully. The much improved ‘Long Solothurn’ round coupled with the 144.78mm (57 inch) long barrel gave it a muzzle velocity of 910 m/s and could penetrate 35 mm of armor plate at 300 meters.

On the Market

After trials, Solothurn approved the S 18-1000 for production. The design of the weapon, alongside its impressive performance, saw it gain a lot of attraction on the international market.

A fully kitted out S 18-1000. Source:- MurphyAuctions
The first nation to acquire the S 18-1000 for service was the Swiss Army, which placed an initial order for 60. These were designated Tankbüchse Solo 40 and were delivered in the first quarter of 1940. Another 33 were ordered as the Swiss Army was impressed by its capabilities, bringing the total in Swiss use to 93. One rifle was installed to the prototype Type 41 Patrol Boat Uri.
The Netherlands had bought six S 18-15 in 1937 for trials but rejected them upon seeing the initial results for the S18-1000. A definitive order for 662 S18-1000s was placed in late 1938, divided as 340 for the Royal Netherlands Army (Koninklijke Landmacht) and 322 for the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger; KNIL). By the time of the German invasion in May 1940, 125 Dutch Army and 72 KNIL rifles had been delivered.
The Italians also looked at the S 18-1000 after rejecting the S 18-100 in 1934. They placed initial orders in 1939 for trials and the first pieces arrived in early 1940 being designated Carabina “S”. At the conclusion of the trials, the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) wanted to equip every infantry battalion with 6 pieces. It is unknown how many were delivered to the Italians, but it is thought to be around 578 of the estimated 1,131 required. The main reason for the lack of deliveries was that Switzerland was placing restrictions on the exportation of war materials to any belligerent nation in 1940.
With Europe being engulfed by war, Sweden started to look towards protecting itself. In 1940, it made inquiries to purchase 480 S 18-1000s. These were approved as Sweden was a neutral country and thus not subjected to Switzerland’s restrictions. Using balance of trade payments with Germany for steel, the rifles arrived between 1940-1941 and were designated 20 mm pansarvärnskanon m/1939.
Hungary had purchased the S 18-100 in 1935 and were producing their own licensed variant, the 36M 20mm Nehézpuska. After the Slovak–Hungarian War, they realized that the 36M was in need of upgrading and purchased around 50 (sources vary) of the new S 18-1000 in early 1940, but as restrictions became tighter, they were unable to purchase more and so production continued on the 36M until 1943.
The US Army had concluded in the mid-1930s that the .50 M2 Heavy Barrel (HB) machine gun would be adopted as the official light anti-tank gun and general vehicle-mounted machine gun. However, observations made during the Spanish Civil War suggested that the .50 might not be sufficient in future conflicts as an anti-tank weapon, so work was put towards creating an anti-tank gun, the 37 mm Gun M3. While the infantry branch championed such a move, the cavalry branch and US Marine Corps still expressed interest in a light anti-mechanization weapon. To this end, the Ordnance Department ordered two S 18-100 rifles in 1939, along with 2,000 rounds of ammunition for trails by the Infantry and Cavalry Boards at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. The results of the trials were unsatisfactory, but as the trials were coming to a close, the S 18-1000 was ready, and so, an example was obtained for testing. Arriving in April 1940, it performed better than its predecessor and was passed on for further trials by both the Infantry and Cavalry boards. The S 18-1000 was seen as superior in performance to the M2 machine gun, so an order was placed with Solothurn for a further 50 models with 50,000 rounds of ammunition which would be standardized as the 20 mm Automatic Gun T3. During negotiations with Solothurn though, things turned difficult. This was down to Solothurn’s parent company – Rheinmetall – specifically forbidding the sale of Solothurn’s anti-tank rifles to any country without its approval, and so, the acquisition was abandoned.

A picture showing the US Army trial of the Solothurn at Aberdeen Proving Ground on 9 April 1940. Source: Reddit
Finland was attempting to modernize its military inventory in the run-up to the Winter War of November 1939. As part of this, one S 18-1000 was purchased by the Puolustusministeriö (Ministry of Defence) in August 1939 (one of the first models as it had the serial number of 4 stamped upon it) for testing. Unfortunately, though, any chance of purchasing more was rendered difficult due to the Soviet-German Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which saw Germany restrict arms shipments to Finland through its territory.

Swedish presentation of the Solothurn S18-1000 (or 20 mm pkvan m/39) with characteristics

Solothurn at War

When the German military crossed the Polish border on the morning of 1st September 1939, the nations of Europe realized that another great war was unavoidable. The armies mobilized against the threats and so the Solothurn S 18-1000 was to be put to the test.
After Poland fell to the joint German-Soviet invasion, the world expected a bloodbath in the West between the Anglo-French alliance and Germany, but outside a few skirmishes on the border nothing occurred for eight months in what became known as the ‘Phoney War’.
It is not known if the single S 18-1000 that Finland acquired before the outbreak of the Winter War was ever issued to combat troops and so it is thought that the S 18-1000s baptism of fire occurred during the German invasion of the Netherlands. The Germans launched their offensive against the Western allies on the morning of 10th May 1940. The 4th Panzer Division was given orders to secure the strategically important Dutch city of Maastricht. The city contained vital bridges over the Maas River, as well as sat to the north of the Belgian Fort Eben-Emael. The Dutch had been on alert since 7th May and troops had been deployed to areas the General Staff felt were vital to the German line of attack. Sergeant Van der Sande was in command of an anti-tank rifle section containing two S 18-1000s and was ordered to deploy his weapons near the two bridges of Wilhelminabrug and Sint Servaasbrug and delay any German advance. At 05:15 on the morning of the 10th May, the first German vehicles were spotted by der Sande’s section and the two anti-tank gunners, Rietveld and Plusjé, prepared their weapons. The order to fire was given and within minutes 2 armored cars were out of action and a third was severely crippled. The Germans reacted by bringing up a 37 mm anti-tank gun and firing at the defensive position forcing the surviving Dutchmen to retreat across the river. The action helped delay the German vanguard enough that the two bridges were blown at 06:00.
Sergeant Sande and his men were not the only group of Dutchmen with Solothurns that were doing their part to delay the advance. A kilometer north of the Wilhelminabrug Bridge was the railway bridge and another strategic objective for the Germans. A platoon of 35 Dutch soldiers, with a pair of Solothurns, held their position against a mainly infantry assault. Soon the lieutenant ordered a withdrawal across the bridge and within moments the bridge was blown. However, the action did not stop there. The German infantry force soon received reinforcements and attempted to secure the bridge in order to effect repairs. Two armored cars attempted to cross the river but were destroyed by the Solothurns. A Panzer I was also disabled as it went to the edge of the riverbank to provide suppressive fire. The fighting became intense and more armor was brought forward, including a handful of Panzerjäger I tank destroyers (two were subsequently knocked out by the anti-tank rifles) and soon the Dutch found themselves overwhelmed. The Battle of Maastricht ended in the early afternoon with a ceasefire, but despite the Dutch loosing, their bravery and the hard-hitting power of the Solothurns accounted for several German AFVs.
The German Army is known to have acquired a number of Solothurn S-18 rifles, including the 1000 model, and deployed them alongside their own anti-tank rifles. What is not know is exactly how many or their exact deployment. The table of organization and equipment for a German Infantry division in 1940 put the complement of ATRs at 108 per Infantry Division with each of the 36 Rifle Companies containing an anti-tank rifle section of 3 rifles, the most numerous being the Panzerbüchse 39. Against the main French tanks, Hotchkiss H35 and Renault R35, any anti-tank rifle would be effectively useless except at extremely close ranges.

An S 18-1000 mounted on an Sd.Kfz. 250. Source: Reddit

A propaganda picture of Italian Bersaglieri manning a “36M Fucile Contracarro da 20-mm Solothurn” in the North African desert. Source: Axishistory
The next known usages of the Solothurn S 18-1000 was by the Italians in the Desert Campaign. Italy received its first batch of 100 Solothurn S 18-1000s in late 1940 and immediately shipped them to their troops serving in the African desert. It was intended to arm every Italian division with an anti-tank company that contained 3 platoons of 4 Solothurns each, but this was not possible, so the S 18-1000s were given to elite units like the Bersaglieri (an Italian light infantry unit) and Compagnie Auto-Avio-Sahariane (Auto-Saharan Companies, long range desert units). More Solothurns started to arrive at the end of 1941/early 1942 and were assigned on the basis of 9 per Bersaglieri to fit in with their intended role as light infantry. The hard-hitting power, coupled with their small silhouette, meant that the weapon could be effectively used against the Commonwealth forces and their lightly armored tanks such as the Light Tank Mk.VI and Cruiser Mk.IV. The weapon also became popular with the Compagnie Auto-Avio-Sahariane, or Auto-Saharan Companies, which were the Italian version of the British Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). When the Camionetta Desertica SPA-Viberti AS.42 arrived in September 1942, several were equipped with the S 18-1000 to help in the company’s mission of hunting down the LRDG. In this role, the S 18-1000 succeeded, as the LRDG operated in similarly open-topped and lightly armored four-wheel vehicles.

An AS.42 somewhere in the Libyan desert, 1942. Source:- tapatalk.com
Another Italian use of the S 18-1000 that is often forgotten is the L3 cc (controcarro or anti-tank). Using the Carro Veloce L3/35 light tank as a base, the twin 8mm Bredas were replaced with the Solothurn. An exact number of how many were produced is not known, but it was not many and they arrived in Libya in late 1942. They performed adequately in the Axis retreat through Africa and some participated in the famous Battle of Kasserine Pass.

An abandoned L3 cc. Source:- tapatalk.com
As the weapon was deployed to Italian frontline units in Africa, it was inevitable that some would fall into the hands of the Commonwealth forces they were fighting against. The Australian 2/2nd Anti-Tank Regiment had one of its reserve batteries equipped with a number of captured Solothurns during the Syria–Lebanon Campaign. How widespread it was among other Commonwealth units is not known, but it can be speculated that several Solothurns would have been repurposed.
It is also alleged that some S 18-1000s of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army fell into the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army who found them more reliable and effective than their own Type 97 anti-tank rifle and used them until they ran out of ammunition.

End of Life

With the rifle weighing 53.5 kg/118 lb empty (54.7 kg/120.6 lb with 10 round magazine attached), as well as the increasing amount of armor being put onto AFV, it meant that the Solothurn was losing its place on the battlefield. As the war raged on the Solothurn was seen less and less and it is believed that the last combat uses of the S 18-1000 were by Italian forces of the National Republican Army as they fought frantically against the Allied advance. A select fire version was produced in 1942, designated the S 18-1100 ‘Universalwaffe’ (universal weapon) and was sold with a specialized AA mount (SO 11) to be able to engage aircraft, as well as the SO 9 carriage for use against AFVs. Not many, a few hundred, of these were produced until production was stopped at the end of 1942/early 1943.

The S 18-1100 on the SO 11 carriage from a Solothurn brochure. Source:- Axishistory
After the war, hundreds of S 18-1000s were put into the lucrative US gun market where they were sold off to gun collectors and enthusiasts. Today it is a rare find but there is still a number of them in the hands of collectors and occasionally they may be found upon the firing ranges.

A post-war advert with an embellished background of the S18-1000. Source:- 2cm flak

Conclusion

Anti-Tank Rifles are often confused with Anti-Tank Guns, both in nomenclature and usage. ATRs are designed to allow the standard infantry unit to disable armored fighting vehicles and work in conjunction with other weapons, like dedicated anti-tank guns. When ATRs were developed during the interwar period, they were effective if albeit bulky but they offered a cheap and more mobile alternative than anti-tank artillery.
The Solothurn S 18-1000 could be called the pinnacle of anti-tank rifles. The ‘Long Solothurn’ round allowed it to keep up with armored development until 1942 but it quickly dropped off when the Allies started to deploy vehicles like the M3 Grant/Lee and M4 Sherman medium tanks in large numbers. The two biggest drawbacks to the S 18-1000 were its weight and its complicated system which meant that misuse or lack of attention could damage the weapon easily. With the heavy deployment of shaped charges and rocket-propelled grenades in 1943, the infantry now had a more effective and lightweight anti-tank weapon that was more viable than the ATRs of the previous few years. The Solothurn, along with its brothers, were forced in obsolescence and became curiosities.

Sources

Zaloga, Steven. The Anti-Tank Rifle, Osprey Publishing, 2018
Weeks, John. Men Against Tanks: History of Anti-tank Warfare, David & Charles, 1975
Axishistory.com
Forgottenweapons.com



Illustration of the Solothurn S 18-1000 made by Yuvnashva Sharma. Funded by our Patreon campaign.

Categories
British tactics German tactics Italian tactics

Esigenza C3 – The Italian Invasion of Malta

“Without Malta the Axis will end by losing control of North Africa…”

– Field Marshal Erwin Rommel quoted in ‘A History of WW2 by A. J. P. Taylor and S. L. Mayer

You can learn more about the naval part of the planned invasion of Malta on our sister website, Naval Encyclopedia!

A simple glance at a map of the Mediterranean immediately reveals why the tiny island nation of Malta has such a high strategic value. Lying roughly halfway between Sicily and North Africa, the island has, for millennia, been an important trading port and safe harbor in the often treacherous Mediterranean. The island would be no less important in World War 2. The British were in control of Malta (it had been a Crown Colony since 1813) and, as of June 1940, the island sat directly between the Axis power of Italy to the north, and the Italian possessions in North Africa (Libya) below it. All Italian, and later, German supply planes, transports, and shipping had to travel well away from Malta or risk being intercepted by ships or ground-based aircraft from the island. This tiny archipelago of Malta, Gozo, and Comino was just 56 miles from the Italian island of Sicily and 225 miles from Tunisia, and was one of the key British strategic locations in WW2 and the setting for what may have been the only example of coordinated Axis planning of the war.

The strategic position of the Island of Malta. Source: Vivarelli
Allied planes and vessels could, in contrast, stage there or put into port for repairs, refueling or replenishing ammunition. This small island was a huge thorn in the side of the Axis, and with the War in North Africa in full swing, control of Malta was more important than ever. The plan to wrestle control from Britain was consequently hatched. The Italians had long wanted to remove Malta from British control, planning such an attack as early as 1938, but lacked the men, equipment, planes, and ships to do it on their own.
The Italians had launched a naval attack on Malta on 26th July 1941 under the guns at Fort Elmo guarding the entrance to the Grand Harbor at Valletta. The Italian X Flottiglia MAS Naval squadron was trying to attack the ships in the harbor but was seen by radar on the island and consequently repulsed by the Bofors guns (another source states ‘twin 6-pounders’) manned by the 3rd Light Anti-aircraft Artillery Regiment, Royal Malta Artillery and men of the Cheshire Regiment. Total casualties are unknown but at least 16 men were killed and at least one motor launch sank. Half-hearted efforts to just sail into Malta and attack the fleet or land troops were not going to work. Any successful attack would need more planning, more resources, and German help.

Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 pictured over the capital city of Malta, Valletta, during a raid on the city and Grand Harbour. Source: Public domain

Genesis

The origin of the combined plan for this operation came from the Italians who convinced, on 17th January 1942, Field-Marshal Albert Kesselring of the value of the idea. He had been appointed as the Commander in Chief of the South (German: Oberbefehlshaber Sud) and was aware of the dysfunctional command structure of the Axis, but could also see the value of Malta. He now sought the support of the Führer for this plan of a combined Italo-German operation. He was not alone in this, the Italians advocated for it, and both Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (German Commander in North Africa) and Admiral Erich Raeder (German Commander in Chief of the Kriegsmarine) were also in favor of this idea.
Bombing alone was not working on Malta. It had started in December 1941, but neither Germany nor Italy had sufficient heavy bombers to neutralize the airfields and air defences on the island. Despite this, the harbor at Valletta and the various facilities on the island were bombed extensively by both German (Luftwaffe) and Italian (Regia Aeronautica) aircraft for more than two years, with thousands of bomb sorties killing thousands of people. The people of Malta refused to give up and the attempts to blockade the island to starve it of supplies failed too. If the Axis wanted to remove Malta from British control, it was going to take more than bombs and blockade.
Despite being well positioned at the outbreak of the War and having large land forces, the Italians had not fared well in their ventures in Yugoslavia and Greece and then North Africa. The Germans had come to prop up the Italians in those theatres, and the Italians quickly became dependent on German help.
In terms of the plan to strike Malta, it was no different. German and Italian bombs could not break the spirit of the defenders, and those Italian plans for invasion were now potentially supported with actual material assistance from the Germans. Kesselring was being very supportive of the work of the Italian Chief of Staff, Marshal Ugo Cavallero, to seize the island.
After Kesselring had visited Hitler at the Berchtesgaden in February 1942, things changed. Hitler supported the operation and, therefore, planning for a combined Italo-German amphibious assault could begin properly under the codename ‘Esigenza C3’ (for reference, Esigenza C2 had been the occupation of the island of Corsica) for the Italians and Operation ‘Herkules’ for the Germans. The operational plans were, however, not the same. The Italians favored a joint air and sea assault, whereas the Germans were only planning for a seaborne invasion, making a coordinated planning effort overly complex.

Risky Business

After the losses in the German invasion of Crete in April 1941 (around 6,000 casualties), Hitler was not in favor of airborne operations, as these had shown that airborne attacks by paratroopers could go very badly wrong and lead to large losses. On top of this concern, the campaign in the East (Operation Barbarossa) against the Soviet Union was going to require a huge amount of logistical support, men, and equipment.
Nonetheless, training was undertaken. The elite Italian Folgore and La Spezia Airborne Divisions (elite Italian paratroopers) would train alongside the Germans as part of the 10,000 strong airborne invasion force.

Field Marshal Kesselring (left) and Marshall Ugo Cavallero (right). Source: German Federal Archive and Wikimedia Commons

Planning

The acceptance of the combined invasion plan was on 17th January 1942. On 8th February, Admiral Arturo Riccardi and Marshal Cavallero met with Kesselring to discuss the actual requirements for ships, landing craft, and supplies needed for the invasion, as well as to set a timetable of operations (Esigenza C3 planning was in the hands of General Vittorio Ambrosio, Chief of Staff for the Italian Army). Kesselring, for his part, advocated on behalf of the Italians to Hitler, trying to obtain German equipment for the Italians to use and, on 17th February 1942, the German Army High Command (German: Oberkommando der Heeres) ordered for arrangements to be made.
The pressure to strike as soon as possible did not come from the Italians, who wanted more time to prepare, but from Kesselring. As early as 17th March, he proposed a raid in force by paratroops against the island. Italian and German air raids on Malta reached their peak between March and April that year and the momentum of attack was on the Axis’ side. A surprise raid by paratroopers was seen as capitalizing on the damage these raids were causing. Despite this disagreement, Kesselring had actually ironed out some of the command problems within the Axis and, along with Cavallero, had reached a general agreement on a strategy for the Mediterranean theatre.
Despite pressure from Admiral Raeder on behalf of Operation Herkules/Esigenza C3, in April 1942, the project was postponed. Hitler’s strategy was to focus on capturing Tobruk and push the Allies back to the borders of Egypt before striking Malta and, eventually, Gibraltar. Despite Hitler’s plan though, the idea was not dead, and joint planning work continued until August 1942.

Esigenza C3/Operation Herkules

The plan called for up to 100,000 men, hundreds of aircraft for ground attack, air cover, and transportation, as well as the bulk of the available Axis surface ships and submarines in the Mediterranean. Italian planning was, despite the best efforts of Cavellero, disjointed. The Army made its own plans, often in conjunction with the Navy, but sometimes independently, and likewise so did the Navy. Neither the Army nor the Navy cooperated with the Air force, with both seeing it as a supporting organization to their own roles – such was the nature of Axis interservice rivalry.
Despite these problems, however, both the King and Mussolini approved of Esigenza C3 and, on 14th October 1941, Cavelero instructed the various members of the senior staff with responsibility for the Army, Navy, and Air Force to examine the plans, a process led by Army General Antonio Gandin. This then developed into a formal joint staff known as Ufficio C3 under the command of General Gandin and resolved the Italian part of the rivalry, as all three services were now under a unified command. Planning then entered five phases. Phase I, which was to last from then until 10th March 1942, was general planning and wargaming and involved input from the Japanese Naval Mission to Italy. Phase II followed straight after until the end of March defining what sort of support the Germans might offer them and the creation of an expeditionary command. April 1942 was Phase III which was for the expeditionary command to organize and plan the operation, with Phase IV reserved for refinement and the preparation of logically support for all of May, June, and July 1942. Phase V was the invasion, with a date for Esigenza C3 set for 1st August 1942.

Japanese Experts

The Italians were especially keen on the advice from the Japanese, who had a lot more experience with this sort of island assault operations compared to themselves and, also, from the middle of February 1942, help from the Germans too. On 21st February 1942, the Italians convened the first tripartite conference on the amphibious operation against Malta. Under Italian organization, the attendees included General Gandin and Admiral Tur (Italy), Admiral Katsuo Abe, Navy Captain Mitunobu, and Colonel Shimizu (Japan) from the military mission to Rome. As a result of the in-depth information and insights from the Japanese, Cavellero understood them to be the experts in this field and asked them for their own study into attacking Malta.
The Japanese study was prepared very quickly, with a plan ready by 5th March 1942, and over two days was compared to the Italian study and war-games took place. The plans, whilst different in some regards, agreed on general principles, but the Italians were impressed with the level of detail in the logistical planning of the attack, although they did not agree with the Japanese assessment of the defenses, which they felt were significantly underestimated.
There was continued cooperation with the Japanese on this endeavor, and further information was gained by studying various other European amphibious attacks from German and Allied raids, including Dieppe. The expertise from the Japanese, refined with training and exercise, later formed the Italian doctrine on such matters, known as the Norme di impiego per Grandi Unita’ di Assalto e Sbarco (English: Employment of large assault and landing formations), with a focus on landing assault storming parties to secure the beachhead ahead of the main landing force.

The Germans

Having obtained extremely valuable insight from the Japanese, the Italians then sought to work with the Germans, using their experiences, in particular from Crete, but also from raids they made in the Baltic. Primarily, the Italians were looking for the German expertise in parachute operations, and Major General Bernhard Ramcke, a veteran of the Crete assault, was selected to be the leading German expert.

Generals Bernhard Ramcke (left) and Kurt Student (right) – German airborne operations masterminds for the Operation Herkules part of Esigenza C3. Source: German Federal Archives
Work with Maj. Gen. Ramcke began on 11th April 1942, and he was later joined by General Kurt Student, Commander of Fliegerkorps XI and an expert in airborne operations. Interference by Kesselring in the planning, though, was to disjoint this smooth planning process when on 13th April 1942 he demanded the creation of a ‘German Office’ within the planning staff, adding another layer of complexity to the command and control. Despite this, a comprehensive plan of attack was developed with agreement on the key strategic points to capture and the timing and coordination of the attack.

The Italo-German Invasion Plan

Airborne attacks on the Southern Heights had the mission of establishing a secure site for a landing and attack the airfields south of Valletta, followed by the seizure of the airfields at Luqa, Takali, and Hal Far, which would allow more troops and supplies to be brought in by air.
Underwater, demolition teams and commandos would be instructed to seize the cliff at the landing site and securing the beachhead for the first wave of landings. That first wave, once ashore, would then seize Marsaxlokk and the port. The second wave would then attack north and west through Marsaxlokk, and the island of Gozo to the north would be seized to form a logistical hub.
A small amphibious assault would be undertaken on Marsaxlokk Bay along with feints directed along the on the northwest coastline of the island, where the defenses were strongest and backed by the Victoria Line. The Victoria Line ran across the northwestern corner of the island from the Bigemma Hills to Maddalena Bay, constituting the main defensive line with machine guns and artillery positions. Crucially, Italian intelligence showed this line could not face south, so was vulnerable to an attack from this direction.

Italian troops from the San Marco Division during a training exercise for the invasion. Note the rather crude landing barges. Source: digilander

CONOPS

With a combined plan to focus on, the Italian High Command (Comando Supremo) developed its own Concept of Operations (CONOPS) by 22nd May (with a modification added on 27th May) for this complex operation, which was to be in two phases. It is also worth bearing in mind that Hitler had authorized the use of German paratroopers too, a matter confirmed by Kesselring in a meeting with Cavallero on 21st April 1942.

Operational Phases for Exigenza C3

Phase I 28th June 1942
17th July 1942
Intensification of the naval and air blockade on Malta with bombing of enemy airfields, defenses, command and control facilities, and water distribution facilities.
Phase II D-Day
1st August 1942 +
Fake paratrooper landings in the north conducted by means of dropping dummy parachutists whilst real paratroopers were being dropped to the south. [Added 27th May].
Isolation of Valletta and prevention of a British counterattack by deploying two paratrooper divisions to the Dingli/Zurrieq area and glider landings at Kalafrana and Fort Benghisa.
The main attack consisting of landing two divisions to seize Marsaxlokk from the rear.
Occupation of the island of Gozo by the Superga Division to serve as a logistics base.
Deception operations by means of small amphibious landings along the north and east. (Added 27th May)
The first naval landing wave would consist of 24,000 men, 32 guns and 30 tanks.
A second amphibious attack to be undertaken by navy special forces and light infantry against Fort Benghisa and Fort Delimara to divert enemy forces from Marsaxlokk Bay. (Added 27th May)
A division held as a reserve to be sent wherever it was needed, but two reserve divisions landed at Marsaxlokk to attack the Victoria Line from the south and complete the occupation of the island.
The remainder of the men, tanks, guns, and support troops to follow successively.


Italian CV.3 light tank disembarking from a landing barge during a training exercise. Source: digilander

The plan of attack for Operation Esigenza C3. Source: Taken from Vivarelli

Assumptions

This bold CONOPS was dependent on several factors though. Firstly, that the Germans had sufficient air transportation capability for the airborne troops and the dropping of supplies. This meant the use of 500 Ju 52 aircraft, 300 DFS 230 gliders, 12 Me 323 transport aircraft, and 200 Gotha 242 gliders.
Second, that there were enough fuel reserves available to move the entire Italian fleet to Maltese waters to support the attack and, finally, and perhaps most crucially, the ability to transport all the ground forces. Over 70,000 men, trucks, tanks, and artillery needed to be moved and unloaded, some of which would have to be done under enemy fire.
The Italians, for their part, had the ability (by the end of June 1942) to transport 29,000 men, along with tanks, artillery, and supplies by sea. The rest of the transportation would have to come from the Germans, as the Italians rushed production of the 100 Motolance (ML-Class) motor launches and Motozattere (MZ-Class) motor barges (copies of the German Marinefahrorahm) it needed. By July 1942, the 100 Motolance and 65 Motozattere were ready along with an assortment of small craft, steamers, motor-sail boats and tankers already set aside. The Italian Navy (RM) modified some large civilian craft for the operation too, including two former ferries to off-load heavy tanks.

Italian Motozattera motor barge. Source: Vivarelli via German Federal Archives
As a result of this production, the Italians could supply a lot of their own sea capability but, nonetheless, they required German help in the form of 27 Marinefahrprahm, 10 Siebel catamaran barges, 6 Type 39 Pionierlandunsboote (engineer boats), 6 Type 40 Pionierlandunsboote (engineer boats), 281 Sturmboote (assault boats – of which 81 would be crewed by the Germans and the remainder would be crewed by the Italians), and 300 smaller inflatable boats.

Motolance’ motor launch seen during training at Livorno, October 1942. Photo:Betasom.it
The airborne landings of both the German and Italian forces would fall under the direction and control of the Germans (General Student), which was logical considering they were supplying the majority of the assets to deliver the troops and supplies, but also from a political point of view, considering the reticence about the German use of airborne forces since the carnage in Crete. Marshall Cavallero would, however, remain supreme commander for the overall operation operating via the Italian and German service heads. No German troops, therefore, would fall under Italian control or vice versa. Once ashore and landed, all ground forces during the operation would be commanded by General Armando Vecchiarelli as leader of the Expeditionary Corps as it would be known (Italian: Corpo di Spedizione), although it is unlikely he would have been able to direct any German troops to move without agreement from their commander.

Italian Folgore Division during training. Source: digilander

Axis Forces (June 1942)

Fliegerkorps XI (Student)
Folgore Parachute Division (Frattini)
7,500 men
9 x Infantry, 3 x Artillery, and 1 x Saboteur Battalions as well as various Engineers and support troops.
La Spezia Air Land Division (Pizzolato)
10,500 men
6 x Infantry, 3 x Artillery, 1 x Saboteur Battalion, and 1 x Mortar Battalions, 1 x Reconnaissance Team, as well as various Engineers and support troops.
7th Flieger Division (Petersen)
11,000 men
Forza Navale Speciale (Tur)
San Marco Marine Infantry Regiment (2,000 men)
Navy-Parachute Swimmers (nuotatori) Battalion (300 men)
4 x Camicie Nere Fascist Militia Landing Battalions (~1000 men each)
Corps di Spedizione (Vecchiarelli – Comando Superiore Tattico)
Livorno Infantry Division (9,850 men)
Superga Infantry Division (9,200 men)
Friuli Infantry Division (10,000 men) – added to plan 6th May 1942
Napoli Infantry Division (~9,000 men)- added to plan 6th May 1942
Assietta Infantry Division (9,000 men) – added to plan 6th May 1942
10th Tank Group with over 100 tanks*
Artillery troops (~3,000 men)
[Troops supplied with additional special equipment, climbing teams, as well as heavy weapons including anti-tank guns and anti-aircraft weapons]
Various Italian and German naval transport, escort and landing vessels as well as air transport and interdiction forces.

* What tanks were going to be used by Italy has been speculated on for some time. The authors Massagiani and Green in ‘The Naval War in the Mediterranean 1940–1943’ clarify that the plan had originally considered German tank support to consist of supplying 20 Panzer III’s and that, although on the 30th April 1942, Hitler, in a meeting with Mussolini, had suggested using captured Soviet heavy tanks in the assault, this plan was abandoned. Instead, the Italian plan for tanks was to make use of eight 75 mm armed Semovente (likely the M.13 based Semovente M.40), and a further 19 Semovente armed with 47 mm guns, which would indicate the L.60/40 based L.40 da 47/32 all in the first wave, as well as a number of Medium tanks (likely the M.13/40). Further tanks coming ashore in the second wave would include at least 50 CV.3 light tanks and the bulk of the heavy artillery, including 90 mm and 75 mm anti-tank guns as well as 147 mm and 105 mm field guns towed by 170 tractors.
It is known that the Comando Supremo did indeed request 10-12 heavy tanks from the Germans, presumably to support the first wave assault and it is possible that the unit Panzer-Abteilung zbV 66 (formed 30th May 1942) was formed for exactly this reason, following Hitler’s suggestion of 30th April. That unit consisted of captured Soviet equipment, including heavy tanks, as well as German equipment. Had this fanciful idea come to fruition, it would have seen the Germans either supplying Soviet tanks, like the KV-2, to the Italians or operating them directly during the invasion. Regardless of such ideas though, the idea was dumped, and German involvement was to be restricted to parachutists and logistical and air support. The tanks for the invasion would be Italian.

Captured Soviet KV-2 and T-34 tanks belonging to Panzer-Abteilung zbV66. Source: beutepanzer.ru

Italian assault boats practice their attack (left) and the FF.SS. Aspromonte with modification to her bows for use as a landing ship for amphibious operations (right). Source: digilander

Allied Forces (July 1942)

The Allied forces on Malta were certainly prepared for a possible attack with 16 battalions of infantry, a wide assortment of artillery, and about two-dozen armored vehicles the most formidable of which for any potential invader was the A.12 Matilda II. Four of these tanks belonging to 7th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment were stationed on the island. However, given the significant tank forces set aside for the invasion by the Germans and Italians even these very well armored tanks would be unlikely to be decisive in any defence.

Allied Forces (July 1942)

Infantry
Northern Command 4 x Infantry Battalions
Southern Command 4 x Infantry Battalions
Central Command 4 x Infantry Battalions
Western Command 4 x Infantry Battalions including a machine gun battalion with 4 x 4.2” mortars, 1 x Military Police Company
Miscellaneous small independent units of engineers, logistics, some Royal Navy personnel, possibly some local irregular forces.
Artillery
4 x Regiments of Anti-Aircraft, 2 x Field Artillery, and 2 x Coastal
64 searchlights
12 x 4.5” AA guns
84 x 3.7” AA guns 16 x 3” 20cwt. AA guns
At least 8 x Bofors AA guns (possibly up to 36)
7 x 9.2” BL Mk.X guns (1 at Fort Bingemma and 2 at Fort Madalena on the East Coast, 2 at Fort San Leonardo and 2 at Fort Benghisa on the West Coast)
10 x 6” BL Mk.VII (2 at Fort Delimara and 2 at Fort San Rocco on the East Coast, 3 at Fort Tigne and 2 at Fort Campbell on the West Coast.
24 x 25 pounder field guns
18 x 6 pdr. 10cwt. QF Mk.I (12 at Fort St. Elmo and 6 at Fort Ricasoli)
Approximately 30 x QF 18 pdr.
Whatever armed ships in harbor may also have been able to provide fire support too, as well as some obsolete/decommissioned Victorian era guns
Tanks
7th Royal Tank Regiment 4 x A.12 Matilda tanks
3rd (King’s Own) Hussars 2 x Vickers VIc Light tanks
Malta Tank Squadron Royal Tank Regiment (formed from 1st Independent Troop and X Squadron 6 RTR) 2 x Valentine Mk.II Infantry tanks
2 x Valentine Mk.III Infantry tanks
A Squadron 6th Royal Tank Regiment 8 tanks formed from an unknown mix of A.9 Cruiser Mk.I and A.13 Cruiser Mk.IV or III
Unknown number of light armor in the form of ‘Bren carriers’


Cruiser Tanks of 6 RTR being unloaded and seen during training on Malta 1942 – not yet painted in the distinctive ‘Malta’ pattern camouflage. Source: IWM

British A.12 Matilda tank (left) and Vickers Mk.VIc (right) painted in the distinctive ‘Malta’ pattern camouflage. Source: IWM

Vickers Mk.VIc (right) painted in the distinctive ‘Malta’ pattern camouflage. The pattern here is less random and slightly more uniform to match a wall or building. Each vehicle was unique. Source: IWM

British A.12 Matilda with a variation of the Malta pattern camouflage with an additional ‘shadow’ around each of the squares adding depth to the pattern. Source: IWM

British Valentine Mk.III Infantry Tank ‘Adonis’ in Malta.

A note on the ‘Malta Pattern’

The camouflage pattern seen on the tanks and also on some other armored vehicles, soft skin vehicles such as staff cars and trucks as well as field guns, generators, radar, and even helmets is unique to the forces on the island. The pattern is specifically intended to closely match the rocky nature of the island, from the open barren highlands to the rocky stone walls and buildings. It consists of random shapes on a light stone color with the lines between dark green or dark brown. A variation on the pattern added a third color as a ‘shadow’ within these blotches and at least one vehicle was even painted in the scheme to match stone courses used in buildings. To apply it on the entire vehicle involved simply painting first the background color and then the dark lines were painted over, being careful that neither layer obscured the census mark on the vehicle.

Two examples of the color scheme used including the regular stonework pattern. Source: maltacommand.com

Conclusion

The relationship between the Italians and the Germans was never a full-hearted one. The Germans tended to be overbearing, authoritarian and dismissive of the Italians. The Italians, for their part, were overly grand in their ideas and underwhelming in their ability to actually deliver results on the ground. They failed to plan for the invasion of Malta in a fully coordinated manner and instead made independent plans for a joint operation which was guaranteed to either sideline one plan over the other, or simply never happen. Whilst both parties agreed on the need to remove Malta from British hands, their inability to work together ensured that it could not happen. The Italians did not have the resources to ‘go it alone’, and the Germans had conflicting political and strategic objectives. For Italy, the Mediterranean was their theater, and Malta was their back door. For the Germans, it was a side campaign likely diverting precious resources from the fighting on the Eastern Front. Germany, with the preponderance of the military forces in the relationship, made the final decision, and the invasion was canceled at the end of July 1942, just one month after the fall of British held Tobruk to the combined Italian-German forces in North Africa.
Had Esigenza C3 been ordered to take place, there is little doubt that all of the planning, training, and exercising would have proved vital. For once during the war, the Axis powers had planned, trained and worked together on a single definable goal with a clear objective. The Italians, in particular, and contrary to popular misconceptions, were, for once, very well prepared. A fact reiterated by Japanese Admiral Abe who, upon witnessing the practice night-time landing of 4,500 men under the dangerous cliffs at Livorno (Italy) remarked to Admiral Tur:

“I came back to Rome convinced that you can accomplish brilliantly, having observed your tenacious exercises, conducted with indomitable spirit and severe discipline”

Esigenza C3 was not to be, however. Hitler had recalled Student to Berlin, kneecapping one of the most complex parts of the whole plan, and with Rommel’s success at Tobruk, there was the excuse to cancel the entire plan in the vain hope of victory in the desert. The Italians too had accepted the dream of taking Malta was over. with Rommel’s failure at El Alamein, the Italians were compelled to send many of the troops for the operation over to North Africa to help, which, regardless of Hitler, doomed the plan. The plan was officially dead on 27th July 1942, but it was effectively over the month before.
With the plan canceled, Malta remained a bastion of British power right in the heart of Axis Mediterranean planning, although from the end of 1941, the actual importance of Malta for hampering Axis supply efforts had waned and in some regards, the bombing alone had crippled the island anyway. Nonetheless, the inability to remove this British hub and turn it to Axis use to support operations in North Africa remains a critical failing of Axis strategy.
Malta had resisted the bombardment of the Axis forces for years and was one of the heaviest bombed places during WW2. The will of the people remained unbroken and the stalwart defense of the island resulted in it being awarded the George Cross on 25th April 1942 – the highest civilian award. This cross remains proudly on the Maltese flag to this day.

Sources

Vivarelli, A. (2014). The Axis and the Intended Invasion of Malta in 1942: A Combined Planning Endeavor. School of Advanced Military Studies, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
Kavanagh, S. (2006). Comparison of the Invasion of Crete and the Proposed Invasion of Malta. US Army Command and General Staff College. (PDF)
David Pastore at forum.axishistory.com
The Times of Malta (LINK) (LINK)
Operatione C3 Malta at digilander.libero.it
De Ninno, F. (2017). The Italian Navy and Japan: Strategy and Hopes 1937-1942.  (LINK)
maltacommand.com
Panzer-Abteilung zbV 66
Greene, J., Massignani, A. (1998). The Naval War in the Mediterranean 1940–1943.


An Italian Carro Veloce CV.3, 50 of which would have participated in the second wave of landings.
Semovente da 75/18, eight of which would have landed on Malta in the first wave and help take on British field fortifications and armor.
L.40 da 47/32 self propelled gun, 19 of which would have gone along their bigger 75 mm armed brothers in the first wave.
Carro Armato M.13/40, a number of which would have formed the tank component of the Italian invasion force.
German Panzer III Ausf.G, 20 of which were at some point proposed to be used.
Captured Soviet KV-2 tank of Panzer-Abteilung zbV 66, which might have been proposed for use in the invasion.

Light Tank Mk.VIc in the famous Malta patern, two of which were present with the 3rd (King’s Own) Hussars.
Infantry Tank Mk.II Matilda in the famous Malta patern. 4 of these were present on the island with the 7th Royal Tank Regiment and would have proven tough nuts to crack for the Italian armor.
A small number of the outdated Cruiser Mk.I were also present on Malta with A Squadron, 6th Royal Tank Regiment.
A few Cruiser Mk.IVs (pictured here) or Cruiser Mk.IIIs were also present with the 6th Royal Tank Regiment.
Infantry Tank Mk.III Valentine Mk.V in the famous Malta patern, four of which were present with the Malta Tank Squadron. These would have also proven tricky for the feebly-armed Italian tanks.
An unknown number of Bren Carriers were also part of the Maltese garrison.

Categories
British tactics French tactics Italian tactics

Campaigns and Battles in East Africa – The North, British and French Somaliland


British Somaliland and indications of the Italian assault August 1940. Source: Stewart

Map of the invasion. Source: Mockler

Introduction and background to AOI

Following the Italian declaration of war against Great Britain and France on the 10th June 1940, the British perceptions of the Italians in Africa changed. The British had misunderstood the unique position Italy held and, although it had previously been unhappy with the Italian invasion and occupation of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), they had not carried out any action to stop them. Following the declaration of war, however, the gloves were off and the British and French possessions in the region, as well as access through the vital Suez canal, were potentially threatened. The Italian high command had expected a short war which would give them territorial gains while Italian East Africa (AOI: Africa Orientale Italiana), surrounded and cut off, merely had to hold out until Great Britain sued for peace.

First Strike

Unlike the large sedentary Italian force languishing in North Africa, the force in AOI under the command of the Duke of Aosta (Amedeo di Savoia-Aosta) took the initiative. Rather than sit and wait to be attacked by the British and to try and get some breathing space to ensure the survival of the colony, the Duke quickly launched attacks on British border posts in Kenya and Sudan. Small towns inside the Sudan border, such as Kassala and Gallabat, were taken before he turned his attention North to the territories of British and French Somaliland. He also launched raids over the borders attacking Berbera, Hargeisa, and Zeila but did not formally invade the French and British territories until sufficient forces had been gathered together. The Aubarre area was the formation point and, by the end of June 1940, the Italians had occupied Borama four miles over the border into British Somaliland in preparation for either an invasion or as a vanguard against a British counterattack.
In general, the strength of British and French forces in the North was massively overestimated, with an estimate of as many as 11,000 British and native forces when, in reality, it was less than half that number. However, the presence of two easily resupplied ports so close to Ethiopia was a major strategic concern for the protection of AOI. Therefore, the ports in Djibouti (French Somaliland) and Berbera (British Somaliland) had to be eliminated for the AOI to stand any chance of holding out.
As of the 1st June 1940, the Italian forces in the whole of AOI (encompassing modern-day Ethiopia, Eritrea, and most of Somalia together forming an area larger than France),, numbered just over a quarter of a million men comprising a mix of regulars (Regio Esercito – Royal Army of Italy), MVSN (Italian: Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale – Voluntary Militia for National Security) commonly known as the ‘Blackshirts’, and colonial forces.

Italian forces in AOI by region, 1st June 1940. Source: Orpen

Renault FT’s in French Somaliland, 1938. Source: Public Domain
The first target of the Italian assault was the French colony and port of Djibouti. French forces defending the territory were commanded by Major General Paul Legentilhomme. The garrison there had been quadrupled since September 1939. At his disposal, he had a substantial infantry force consisting of seven battalions of Senegalese and Somali infantry, four companies of militia troops and two platoons of camel-mounted troops, and an assortment of aircraft. General Legentilhomme also possessed a small stock of 3 batteries of field guns, 4 batteries of anti-aircraft guns, and at least 4 Renault FT light tanks armed with the short 37mm gun, constituting one light tank company. This constituted a significant force of men and tanks, intended to not just dissuade the Italian forces from attacking but, according to Allied plans, it was to be the strike force against Addis Ababa. The much weaker British forces in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Kenya, and British Somaliland were supposed to remain defensive and let the French attack up the rail line to Addis. Whether the Italians knew that this was the plan or not, the peril was obvious.
Regardless, General Nasi, commanding Italian forces, attacked French Somaliland on 18th June 1940 with 9,000 men starting with the forts of Ali-Sabieh (~90 km south of the capital) and Dadd’to in the south and north respectively and skirmishes around Lakes Abbe and Ally in the South West. Despite the enormous advantages of the French forces, the Italians managed to occupy a series of border fortifications on the AOI/French Somaliland border by the end of June but got no further. Italian planes bombed Djibouti harbour, and on the 24th June, the Franco-Italian Armistice came into effect, requiring the demilitarisation of French Somaliland for the period of war between Italy and Great Britain, ceding effective control to the Italians.
The armistice also required all arms and ammunition, which would have included those tanks and guns, to be surrendered to Italy but General Legentilhomme stubbornly refused to cooperate insisting he would fight on, refusing to comply with orders to surrender until 28th July when President Petain replaced him with General Germain. General Germain though, refused to demilitarise, instead adopting a non-belligerent posture, fully cooperating with the Vichy Government but taking no offensive action and thus denying the stock of tanks and equipment to the Italians. The battalion of French troops blocking the Jirreh pass (considered a ‘back door’ into British Somaliland) was withdrawn per the armistice agreement but was replaced with a detachment of the Somaliland Camel Corps instead to guard the 45-mile border.
The armistice had effectively neutralized French Somaliland and permitted the Italians to make use of the port of Djibouti and the railway line unhindered by the French forces, although British control of the sea meant that the harbour received no useful supplies to help AOI. With the conclusion of operations in French Somaliland by the end of the July, the attention was turned to eliminate the British next door. The British later seized the French colony from Vichy hands in October 1941 following a naval blockade.

Italian troops march in columns during the invasion of British Somaliland.

The assault on British Somaliland

With French Somaliland neutralized, the threat from the British had to be eliminated as well and, although the French had not surrendered their tanks and guns, the Italians had sufficient men to do the job. General Guglielmo Nasi, commanding the Italian forces, over-estimated British strength in the colony, assessing that, on top of more men, they also had 24 guns and 8 anti-tank guns as well as 50 anti-aircraft guns which would complicate his invasion plans. Italian forces did occupy the station at Buramo on the 24th June. This lead to the despatch of a camel troop by the British to scout and raid them, which (in company with some local Somali tribesmen) they did on the night of the 29th/30th June. A further raid against Italian forces by this Camel troop was carried out at Dumuk but, these raids did little to deter the General and may only have served to reinforce the need to remove this British presence. The invasion started on the 3rd August 1940, with Italian troops crossing the border.

A column of Italian M.11/39 Medium tanks advancing into British Somaliland, August 1940.

Defences

The defence of British Somaliland was commanded by Brigadier Arthur Chater when on the 15th May 1940, the official defence shifted from ambivalence to ‘scuttle’ with actual soldiers started to be used rather than irregular light troops and the Somaliland Camel Corps. After this, some active defence was being considered, but it was too little too late. Forces did start arriving so that, by the time of the invasion, Brigadier Chater had at his disposal about 5,000 men consisting of:

  • Somaliland Camel Corps (SCC) (~630 men including reservists) comprising a total of one motorised machine gun company, one camel-mounted rifle company, one pony-mounted rifle company, and one company of dismounted rifles. 400 Askaris with 14 British Officers with reinforcements from the Southern Rhodesia Regiment of 17 Officers and 20 Other Ranks which formed a second dismounted company.
  • 2nd Battalion Black Watch standing by at Aden
  • 1st Battalion Northern Rhodesia Regiment (1st NRR)
  • 2nd (Nyasaland) Battalion King’s African Rifles (KAR) (about 875 men of whom just 9 of the 40 officers were regulars) arrived 12th July 1940
  • 1st East African Light Battery (4 x 3.7″ howitzers) (from Kenya) arrived 12th July 1940
  • 1st Battalion 2nd Punjab Regiment (1st/2nd Punjab Reg.) arrived 1st July 1940
  • 3rd Battalion 15th Punjab Regiment (3rd/15th Punjab Reg.) arrived 1st July 1940
  • some Police units
  • Six Italian 20mm cannons stripped from an interned Italian ship


Troops of the Somaliland Camel Corps
Brigadier Chater chose the best defensive line open to him, about 50 miles inland from Berbera on the high ground. Back in 1939, GB£900 had been spent on the construction of concrete machine-gun nests at Tug Argan and Sheikh Pass to constitute the entirety of the defences for the protectorate. This position at Tug Argan would block the only road route to Berbera, leaving the invading Italians with three options. Either attack the Jirreh pass to the north and advance down a poor track to Berbera; attacking down the main road from Hargeisa to the pass at Tug Argan where the British forces were; or going around the south via Burao and over the Sheikh pass.
This was the first time any real practical consideration had been given to defending the protectorate at all. As Millman (British Somaliland: An administrative history) puts it “there had been no time to put the defence of the Protectorate on any sort of satisfactory footing before the Italian invasion began. Only in the process of attempting to defend the place did it become clear that it was indefensible” (p.118). But held, it had to be. The British Prime Minister had decreed it, against the objections of Brigadier Chater, who was more in favour of simply abandoning the province. As a defence of the entire 700 or so miles of the border (not including the 45 miles bordering French Somaliland) was not possible, the only other option was to seize access routes and high ground.
Brigadier Chater deployed his forces, with the 3rd/15th Punjab Regiment held in reserve at Berbera, some of the Camel Corps with some Punjabi troops guarding the northern pass at Jirreh, the 1st/2nd Punjab Regiment guarding the Sheikh Pass, and the Northern Rhodesians and KAR at Tug Argan. The remainder of the Camel Corps, Police and irregular units were used to provide scouts and screening of enemy movements at border crossings.
With his forces deployed like this, regardless of which way the Italian forces would attack, they would have to cross one of the three passes, and only one had a decent road, the route through Tug Argan.

British Dispositions 1st August 1940

Area Troops
Dobo 1 x Company SCC less one troop
Hargeisa 1 x Motor company SCC less one troop
1 x Troop SCC
1 x Company NRR, KAR
Burao 1 x Company and one Troop SCC
Zeila to Berbera Road 1 x Officer’s Patrol with wireless
Forward (Border) areas Illalos (native irregulars)
Tug Argan Main Position NRR less one Company
Machine-Gun Company
B Company SCC
1st East African Light Battery
Tug Argan Left Flank 2nd KAR with HQ at Mandera*
Tug Argan Laferug
(Force Reserve)
3rd/15th Punjab Regiment (until the 7th August when replaced by 2nd Black Watch)
Tug Argan Sawr Hills 3rd/15th Punjab Regiment (after 7th August)
Sheikh Pass Elements of 1st/2nd Punjab Regiment
Shell Gap (road from Zeilah) Elements of 1st/2nd Punjab Regiment
Bihendi Gap (East of Berbera) Elements of 1st/2nd Punjab Regiment
Berbera (base) Elements of 1st/2nd Punjab Regiment

*Haile Selassie’s War by Anthony Mockler puts the HQ location at Barkasan Hill rather than at Madera although it likely moved during the defence.

The Italians are coming

Invading British Somaliland was the substantial force under General Nasi consisting of about 25,000 men of whom just 4800 were Italian, with the bulk being native Ascari troops. As well as this infantry force, General Nasi also had half a company of M.11/39 medium tanks and a squadron of CV.3 light tanks, as well as some armored cars.
Dividing his force, General Nasi sent the main portion, including the tanks, Eastwards along the Jigga to Hargeisa road. Commanding this column was General Carlo De Simeone leading the XIII Colonial Brigade under General Nam, the XIV Colonial Brigade under General Tosti, and the XV Colonial Brigade under Colonel Graziosi. A total of 11 infantry battalions with 14 batteries of artillery, the half company of the M.11/39 medium tanks, the squadron of the CV.3 light tanks, and some armored cars. Following, and acting as a reserve, was the II Colonial Brigade commanded by Colonel Lorenzini consisting of 4 battalions of infantry and two battalions of artillery.

Italian troops carried in trucks during the invasion of British Somaliland. Source: waridaad.blogspot.com
The second, lighter force was heading northwards to the sea at Zeila, sealing off any escape or support from French Somaliland. Commanded by General Bertoldi who had at his disposal 8 infantry battalions including 2 CCNN Blackshirts of which one was the machine gun battalion of the Granatieri di Savoia (the Savoia Grenadiers); an elite unit of the regular Italian army, as opposed to the mainly colonial forces. General Bertoldi was supported by four batteries of artillery split between LXX Colonial brigade and XVII colonial brigade. Alongside this northern column was an ‘exploitation’ unit led by General Passerone with just two battalions of infantry and a battery of artillery with the plan being, then upon the fall of Zeila, this small unit could attack Berbera from along the coast.
The third and final column consisting of a single infantry battalion, two groups of irregular troops and a single battery of artillery was led by General Bertello. They were to circle around the right flank. This force was sent to attack Sheikh Pass and then onto Berbera. If all three columns were successful, General Nasi would not only seal off any possible escape or reinforcements by land but also converge on Berbera from three directions.
The attack began on the 3rd August 1940, with the border crossed by the north and south columns with the main column moving toward Hargeisa. Here, on the 4th August, it met lead elements of the Camel Corps and Rhodesians and the Italians deployed their 12 light tanks (CV.3) abreast in a line of attack. The Camel Corps troops and Rhodesians reported knocking out or disabling three of these light tanks with anti-tank rifles before retreating as these tanks assaulted their position and overran it allowing the Italian column to resume its advance. Noteworthy here is that the official London Gazette report on the campaign states that Italian losses were a single armored car set on fire and two others damaged by rifle fire and not any tanks. Although the column advanced once more, it was harassed by British planes as it moved along the road but having taken Hargeisa allowed the Italians to move their air support up to assist in the attack on Berbera. This is presumably why the attack halted at Hargeisa on the 6th and 7th, to consolidate the advance.
The north column under General Bertoldi with the Savoia Grenadiers set the pace though, crossing the border and reaching their objective ahead of expectations, capturing Zeila. General Passerone’s exploitation force was then free to march on Berbera from the north unopposed.
On the 6th, the southern column under General Bertello reached Odweina and found the Sheikh Pass blocked by a battalion of the 1st/2nd Punjab Regiment. General Bertello chose to engage these troops only lightly with irregular troops while sending the main force he had north to attack the flank of the British at Tug Argan instead.
The main column resumed its advance on 8th August and, at 12:30 hours 9th August, ran into a delaying force comprising one company of the NRR with a machine-gun section of the SCC. The delaying tactic was a failure, however, as the first Italian tanks (M.11’s) were led around the hastily placed minefield ambush and overan the machine-guns. Unable to stop these tanks with anti-tank rifles or machine guns, the British, again, withdrew. With no weapons available to penetrate the Italian armor, a request for a gun capable of knocking them out was sent. The call was answered by the Australian Light Cruiser HMAS Hobart which sent a 3-pounder Naval gun along with 3 crew to Tog Argan where it was deployed on Observation Hill. Although not ideal, the gun could adequately deal with any of the Italian tanks although as a result of the mounting which had to be fabricated for it, the contraption had to be partially dismantled for reloading each time, with a resulting rate of fire of just 1 round every 5 minutes.
The British Home Command was aware that an invasion had begun and on the 10th was sending reinforcements and a change of command. Brigadier Chater was replaced with Major-General A.R. Godwin-Austen because the size of the forces coming would need a higher ranking commander. These reinforcements were another battalion of infantry, an artillery battery, a field artillery regiment, two 2-pounder anti-tank guns, a unit of Indian sappers, and the mechanized cavalry regiment taken from the 4th Indian Division. However, they never arrived, leaving General Godwin-Austen to command the original and much smaller force. The only reinforcements he had at his disposal were two 3″ anti-aircraft guns from the 23rd battery Hong Kong and Singapore brigade of the Royal Artillery.

Deployment of British forces at Tug Argan, 10th/11th August 1940. Source: Moyse-Bartlett

Map of the action at Tug Argan. August 1940. Source: unknown
The Italians reached Tug Argan on the 10th but did not attack until the 11th as they deployed ready for attack. The column had been led by the M.11/39 Medium tanks followed by CV.3 Light tanks and then the troops carried by a lorry. The British position was arranged with three companies of the 3rd/15th Punjab Regiment dispersed over the hilltops covering the right flank (north) at the Sawr Hills. The left flank (south) was a 5 mile long position covered by the Rhodesians and Camel Corps on a series of hills (Black Hill, Knobbly Hill, Mill Hill, Castle Hill, and Observation Hill) with the four 3.7” guns divided into pairs of two on the hills (Knobbly and Mill). With them, in this spread-out line of defended hilltops with the Indians troops on ‘Punjab Ridge’ followed by half of the 2nd KAR on Block Hill, covering the Mirgo Pass. This over-extended defensive line was weakened by a gap of 5 miles before another defended position covering the Jerato Pass, held by the other half of the 2nd KAR. Behind all of this was the newly arrived 2nd Black Watch held in reserve at Laferug. This was a poor arrangement with troops unable to cover each other with supporting fire due to the distances between positions and enough room for the Italian forces to manoeuvre between them or pick them off one at a time.

French colonial Renault FT-31 in 1940.
French colonial Renault FT-31 in 1940.

M11/39 in Eastern Africa, British Somaliland invasion, September 1940.
cv35 Ariete div. Libya 1941
Italian Carro Veloce CV-35 serie II, Ariete division, serving in Africa, but on the Lybian front. The same vehicle formed the stapple of Italian armored forces in East Africa.
A Universal Carrier Mk.II heavily modified for desert combat with the VIIIth army, El Alamein, June 1942
A Universal Carrier in British used in North Africa. This trustworthy vehicle was present on all fronts the British Army operated, including East Africa.

The Italians attack

The attack from the road required De Simone’s force to cross very rugged terrain made more complex by the inaccurate maps they were using (copied from inaccurate British maps from 1926) but was preceded by a bombardment from the Italian guns falling on Mill Hill, which was defended by two platoons of the Camel Corps along with two howitzers. The bombardment then shifted to other forward positions and was then followed up by air attacks from Italian bombers and ground attacks by fighters. Mill Hill, in particular, was heavily damaged by this shelling and bombardment. In the history of the King’s African Rifles, Lt.Col. Moyse-Bartlett reports that 8 Italian tanks which had been moving along the Tug towards Observation Hill were fired upon by the 3.7” howitzers on the hill which appears to have caused them to leave.
The XIV brigade took the centre and attacked the Rhodesians over the dry stream bed for which Tug Argan is named (a ‘Tug’ is a dry stream bed). To their left was Lorenzini with II Brigade working its way around the British positions making excellent use of cover through the dry stream. On the right flank was XV Brigade facing Punjab Ridge with the armored vehicles held back in reserve. The right flank attacked by XV brigade was supported by the arriving troops from Bertello’s column heading north. Thus, the British positions were too spread out and were attacked in force from more than one direction.
The initial Italian attacks from the centre and north were repulsed, but the gaps between the positions were exploited by XV Brigade splitting the KAR from the Rhodesians along Mirgo Pass. The Italians ambushed a supply column and the Black Watch, having penetrated past the British lines.
XV Brigade though had suffered casualties during the main attacks and was replaced with XIII Brigade from the reserve for a fresh attack. Italian aircraft bombed the British positions, particularly Castle Hill which had been well defended by the Rhodesians against XV Brigade. The initial attacks had failed as the stalwart defenders were not for budging and the two flanking columns had not progressed well either. Despite no enemy forces blocking his troops, Passerone’s column towards Berbera had been stalled by a combination of terrible roads, constant British air attacks, and shelling from British warships. The southern column had engaged the Punjabi’s at Sheikh Pass but had made no real attempt to shift them, preferring instead to hold the troops there to prevent them being used at Tug Argan.
Mill Hill was abandoned by the afternoon of the 12th due to heavy losses caused by Italian attacks, with the defenders leaving behind the two howitzers, spiked and abandoned. The other two guns, based on Knobbly Hill were overrun by the Italians meaning that the British were effectively without artillery support.
Black Hill fared no better. Defended by just the machine gun company of the Camel Corps supported by the Rhodesians they quickly became isolated and cut off as the Italians infiltrated through their lines. So cut-off they were that, with the loss of communications, the British commander believed the hill had fallen to enemy attacks on the 13th and sent a patrol from the 3rd/15th Punjabi’s to check, finding the beleaguered defenders short of water and ammunition. In the peak of the dry season in that part of the world with temperatures of 48 C (120 F) commonplace, a lack of water was as much of a danger as enemy fire. No additional troops arrived at Tug Argan to support the British but with enemy tanks moving around more guns had been found in the form of a pair of Bofors cannons on the 13th.
On the 14th August, Observation Hill came under fierce bombardment. The naval 3-pounder which had been placed there was causing great disruption in the hands of the skilled naval gunners who, along with the Camel Corps machine gun detachment, were a serious hindrance to Italian movement. As a result, the Italians moved guns through the British lines and started a bombardment of the hill from behind in a very confused engagement. During the night of 13th/14th August, the Black Watch brought up two Bren Carriers laden with water supplies to the defenders on Castle and Knobbly Hills as well as additional ammunition. The Italians ambushed this supply convoy causing the loss of one carrier which fell into a ravine and was abandoned. Three trucks were also abandoned by their Somali drivers but, by daylight on the 14th, a lot of confidence in the viability of the defences had been lost.
Daybreak on the 14th also brought a renewed and intense barrage on Castle and Observation Hills with over 500 shells landing on Castle Hill alone smashing several areas of defence but the Italian attack at 16:00 hours was still fought off. With much of the defence works smashed and the Italians growing more confident the outcome was in no doubt.
A new attack on Tug Argan was ordered on the 15th August by General De Simone, and General Godwin-Austen already believed his position to be untenable. The ambush of the Black Watch by XV Brigade getting through the gaps in his defences convinced him he was going to be surrounded and destroyed and he began his plans to withdraw to Berbera.
When the Italians attacked on the 15th, they quickly got artillery behind Black Hill but were dispersed by British fire. The hill was heavily shelled though but the main attack was on Observation Hill where, after a two hours intense bombardment, they forced the Rhodesians off it scattering them by 17:00 hours. The Naval 3-pounder and its gallant naval crew, Petty Officer Hugh Jones, and Able Seamen Sweeny and Hurren were lost defending the position believed killed although they were later reported to have been captured (all three of them were released as POW’s in April 1941, and Petty Officer Hugh Jones returned to Australia in June 1941). Captain Wilson (East Surrey Regiment) commanding elements of the Somaliland Camel Corps received a posthumous Victoria Cross for his actions on Observation Hill.
The Italians then set to work on the Punjabi positions. Lorenzini’s flanking force penetrated into the Punjabi’s positions as they were withdrawing causing chaos and the 3rd/15th Punjabi Regiment withdrew in disorder. The entire defensive system of positions was abandoned with forces pulling back to Berbera with the retreat covered by the Black Watch and KAR. Black Hill too was abandoned on the 15th and the remaining Camel Corps and Rhodesians retreated.
Suspecting a feint withdrawal, De Simeone did not capitalise on the enemy rout with his forces still in position for further attacks and to defend what they had won. II Brigade was moving towards the positions formerly held by the Black Watch at Laferung with XIII moving along the road to support them. XV Brigade was still on the high ground they had won, LXX Brigade was still coming back to the main force to, and XIV was still in reserve with no progress made in pursuit until the 17th.
Finally, at 10:50 hours on the 17th, realising the British were retreating, De Simeone ordered the attack on the covering position at Laferug held by the Black Watch and the two companies of the 2nd KAR who were covering the British withdrawal and found them to be a most stubborn opponent. Despite attacking with a brigade strength (LXX Brigade) force supported by artillery and tanks, the attack was poorly organised and it did not go well for the Italians.
The attack on the left flank was repelled and then there was a battalion strength attack by “hordes of Italian troops, many of them black and being driven forward by shambock (a type of whip) wielding white officers” on the British centre defended by a single company which was being subjected to heavy casualties but was progressively creeping over the advanced British positions.
We opened fire and they all ran into each other and the troops scattering for cover and more trucks came up behind. Now everyone was firing….[some members of the Battalion started to withdraw]… this was absolutely not allowed with express orders. I got very angry and jumped out of my trench, waving my pistol I shouted to them to turn around and get back to their trenches, fix their bayonets and then come with me
Account of Captain D. Rose (Black Watch)
Captain Rose brought up three Bren carriers and the company forced the Italian battalion back about 500 metres at the point of the bayonet, restoring the position to British control. During this time, Captain Rose was shot in the shoulder bowling him “arse-over-tip like a shot-rabbit” before he got back to his trench.
[The Italian attack]… was pushed forward on the left with great spirit until fifty Highlanders upped and charged wildly yelling, bayonets out, for six hundred yards, a terrifying sight that sent ‘the enemy rising and running like hares in their hundreds
Haile Selassie’s War. p.248
The next attack by the Italians sought to regain this ground, attacking along the left and centre with infantry supported by eight to ten light and medium tanks working together where they ran into the fire of the two Bofors gun which had been brought up. The destruction of one medium (M.11) and two light (CV.3) tanks by these guns under the command of Sergeant Major Sandy (Black Watch) fought off this renewed attack. Of note here is that in ‘Haile Selassie’s War’, Anthony Mockler states this was, in fact, just a single Bofors gun and one captured Italian Breda cannon with 5 rounds and ‘The Black Watch’ by Victoria Schofield confirms just a single Bofors gun with just a dozen shells.
The stubbornness of the Black Watch and the audacity of the bayonet attack had stunned the Italian forces, but the defence was not without a price. Captain Rose had been wounded, the Battalion piper Henry MacDonald had been shot as he started piping for the charge and a further 7 of the Black Watch had been killed during the campaign with 6 of them during this action.* Italian losses are not known but it was the Italians who had the upper hand.
*The Roll of Honour for 2nd Battalion Black Watch records just 6 names with 5 recorded as being killed on the 17th and a sixth dying on the 19th at Hargeisa, suggesting he died of his wounds in captivity.
Unable to go through the British, the Italians instead moved around to their right flank with about 20 tanks circling the British positions. Unable to protect themselves from that direction, and with a front-line about two miles long straddling the main road, the British were very thinly spread and vulnerable to being flanked. To avoid being cut-off, and having achieved their delaying mission, the British withdrew back towards Berbera. Nursing his bloodied nose at Laferug, De Simeone had failed to capitalise on the confused retreat and breakthrough of the British defences two days day before-hand.

Abandoned British trucks, British Somaliland 1940. Source:coconuttimes.com
The British delaying action had been a success but with risk. The troops were nearly overwhelmed and destroyed and could just as easily have been cut off. As a result a plan for a second delaying action at Nasiye was abandoned. The first action had been so successful it was not needed anyway. Enough time had been bought for the evacuation of troops and all of the bridges along the road had been blown up to slow down the Italian advance. Ships including HMAS Hobart at Berbera were loaded up with troops and some civilians and evacuated to Aden.
Unfortunately, the Black Watch, which had been assumed lost to enemy action was cut off by the blowing up of the bridges, meaning they had to abandon most of their vehicles. Additional lorries then had to be brought back from Berbera to evacuate the men. Even so, two men were left behind and missed the trucks having to swim to the evacuation boat wearing only their rifles.
Regardless of the rather chaotic retreat, it had been carried out in mostly good order and overnight on the 17th/18th August the entire force, save for a couple of hundred strong rearguards at the outskirts of Berbera made up mainly of the SCC, was evacuated. The locally recruited SCC then disbanded to the local population.

Two triumphant Italian soldiers are holding an upside Union Flag taken as a trophy in British Somaliland.
De Simeone got to Berbera on the 19th, finding that the last British troops had gone. All the Italians got for this victory was a bombing raid by RAF Blenheims instead. There were spoils though. The Somaliland Camel Corps was effectively disbanded (reformed 1941, and disbanded again in 1943) and the Italians captured a large quantity of material, including 30 ‘anti-tank machine-guns’ (sometimes incorrectly described as 2-pounder guns), 5 mortars, 5 pieces of artillery, 3 Bren gun carriers, large quantities of machine guns, small arms, and ammunition, as well as over 100 much needed trucks to add to the Italian inventory.
The invasion had taken the territory and pushed the British out, but was not the decisive victory needed. The British withdrawal had been orderly, and the cost for Italy had been high.
British reported losses for the entire invasion of British Somaliland were 38 killed, 102 wounded, and 120 captured or missing, although it is not known if this includes the irregular Somali forces estimated to have lost around 1000 men. Italian reported losses for the conquest of British Somaliland were 465 killed, 1530 wounded and 34 missing, out of which 161 of the killed or wounded were Italian, the rest being native troops. An estimated 2000 Somali tribesmen fighting against the British may have died. Other figures quote 260 British and 2,052 Italian casualties showing just how complicated such figures are to determine especially with irregular troops.

The captured Governor’s residence in Berbera with the Italian flag flying over it in triumph.
Nonetheless, this was seen and portrayed as a great victory in Italy and, for the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, another bitter early loss. The loss was not a severe military one but a loss of face, a political victory. The port had been so poorly developed by the British it was barely usable for delivering supplies anyway and was just a berth. It was the damage to British prestige which stung Churchill more than anything. A report published in 1946 concluded that the loss of British Somaliland was attributable to 4 causes:

  1. The insistence on defending colonies on the cheap
  2. Inadequate preparations for War against Italy by the War Office.
  3. The collapse of the French resistance in French Somaliland
  4. The unsuitability of Berbera as a port slowing down the delivery of supplies and reinforcements.

Despite this early success though, the Duke of Aosta made a critical mistake. He stopped further advances out of AOI and instead tried to consolidate his position. In doing so, he yielded the initiative to the British and was never to regain it. De Simeone and General Godwin-Austen would meet again in Africa, with the invasion of Italian Somaliland, and General Godwin-Austen was not going to repeat the earlier mistakes and excess caution he had shown in defending British Somaliland. Had the defence of the Protectorate been considered and planned earlier or the forces better organised at Tug Argun, it is conceivable that the entire Italian invasion could have been halted, giving Italy an early taste of defeat rather than the misleading belief that the campaign in East Africa was a meeting of equals.

Sources

The invasion of British Somaliland. (1998). Bill Stone
Haile Selassie’s War. (2002). Anthony Mockler, Interlink Pub. Group Inc.
Italy through the looking glass: Aspects of British policy and intelligence concerning Italy 1939-1941. (1997). Dawn Miller, PhD Thesis, University of Toronto
South African Force: East African and Abyssinian Campaigns. (1968). Commandant Neil Orpen
Somaliland Camel Corps, https://www.kaiserscross.com/188001/492443.html
How Italy was defeated in East Africa in 1941, Ian Carter, IWM
History of the Second World War: Mediterranean and Middle East Vol.1. (1956). Sir James Butler
British Somaliland: An administrative history, 1920-1960. (2014). Brock Milman, Routledge Press
The King’s African Rifles: A study in the Military History of East and Central Africa 1890-1945, Vol.2. (2012). Lt.Col. H. Moyse-Bartlett. Naval and Military Press Ltd. (2012 reprint)
The First Victory: The Second World War and the East Africa Campaign. (2016). Andrew Stewart, Yale University Press
Operations in the Somaliland Protectorate 1939-1940, Supplement to the London Gazette, 5th June 1946, 2719-2727
The Black Watch: Fighting in Front Line 1899-2006. (2017). Victoria Schofield. Head of Zeus Pub.
The Mercury, 5th December 1940. Evacuation of Berbera: Gallant Australians
The Swan Express, 12th June 1941. Municipal Welcome Home to Petty Officer Hugh Jones
The Daily News, 17th April 1941. WA War Prisoner Released.
Sunday Times. 13th October 1940. Serving his gun to a Heroic Death.

Categories
AT weapons WW2 British AT Weapons

Rifle, Anti-Tank, .55in, Boys "Boys Anti-Tank Rifle"

United Kingdom (1934)
Antitank Rifle – 114,081 Built

The Boys Anti-Tank Rifle was part of Britain’s interwar development of weapons designed to take on tanks. While the artillery got the 2 pounder, a cheaper, lighter alternative was needed for the Infantry to help deal with tanks and other armored vehicles. Out of this necessity came the Rifle, Anti-Tank, .55in, Boys.

A Boys Mk.1. Source: Wikimedia

Design and Development

The British Army had shown interest in an anti-tank rifle during the First World War, mainly that designed by famous gun designer Philip Thomas Godsal. However, due to the lack of a German tank threat, with those that did appear easily dealt with by artillery or other means, no further development past prototype stage was taken.
In 1934, the Small Arms Committee started a programme for an anti-tank rifle to be used at platoon level with the ability to penetrate 16mm of armor at 100 yards (91 meters). The work was led by Captain Henry C. Boys, Assistant Superintendent of Design at the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield. The team looked at the Polish Karabin przeciwpancerny wzór 35 anti-tank rifle and used its design as inspiration for their own project.
From this influence they built, like many other anti-tank rifles of the time, a large-scale bolt action rifle. It was designed to take a modified .50 BMG cartridge but, after initial trials, the bullet was increased to a .55 calibre. However, unlike many of its counterparts, it was fed from a top loading magazine with the spent cases being ejected down. Due to this, the sights were put onto the left-hand side. To help reduce the effect of recoil, a circular muzzle break with three slots on its circumference at sixty degree spacing was added. The whole barrel and receiver were mounted on a slide that pushed against a large spring when the weapon was fired. There was also a walnut cheek-piece and the butt was curved and padded to allow for better control of the weapon. It was also mounted onto a unique looking T-shaped monopod that allowed for a stable firing platform.

A British soldier on Salisbury Plain, 1939. You can see the unique Boys monopod. Source: Imperial War Museum
To give it a high velocity in order to penetrate armor, the barrel was 910mm long and had 7 grooves. This allowed the weapon to achieve a velocity of 802 meters per second, and was highly accurate up to a range of 300 yards (274 meters).
The prototype was given the name ‘Stanchion’ and it was tested in early 1936, the original .50 BMG modified cartridge being described as having “a disappointing armor-piercing performance”. This led Captain Boys to redesign the round, increasing it to .55 caliber. The bullet was 926 gr. hardened steel core bullet with a lead sleeve and a steel jacket. This was then placed into a .50 BMG case that had an enlarged neck for the .55 round and a belt added near the base to stop it from being chambered into .50 caliber weapons. This allowed for a penetration performance of 23.2 mm of armor at 100 yards, this was a significant increase over the specifications of the initial requirements. The trials continued throughout 1936 and in November 1937 the ‘Stanchion’ was accepted for service. Unfortunately, Captain Boys died only days before and so the rifle was renamed Boys in his honor.

Close up of the sight and muzzle break on the Mk 1 Boys. Source: Wikimedia

Modifications and Upgrades

It was soon noticed that the .55 Boys cartridge was insufficient to the task and a redesign was ordered. The team reduced the weight of the bullet itself and increased the propellant, making a lighter but faster bullet. This was adopted into service as the Mk.II bullet in June 1939 and the Mk.I bullet was declared obsolete in December of that year. In 1942, an Armoured Piercing Composite Rigid (APCR) was developed after British engineers had examined captured German 7.92×94mm Patronen. It used a tungsten carbide core with an aluminum jacket. This design improved muzzle velocity to 944 m/s and allowed it to penetrate 20mm at 300 yards, but due to the development and deployment of more effective anti-tank weapons, like the PIAT, this cartridge was never officially adopted.

A Boys mk.II cartridge (left) versus a .50 BMG cartridge. Source: Wikimedia
It wasn’t just the cartridge that went through upgrades but the rifle itself.
Due to the outbreak of war, the need for the Boys AT rifle was increased and soon the Canadian company, John Inglis and Company, was producing the Boys (alongside the many other weapons it was producing for the Commonwealth war effort). It was during the production here that the engineer team took it upon themselves to make some modifications. The most noticeable is the muzzle brake, often referred to as the harmonica. It was a rectangular block with the rear-ward slanting gas vents directed horizontally either side. It has been theorized that it came about as a result of US Army testing with the Solothurn S 18-1000. This helped with the recoil but more importantly, it reduced the amount of debris that was thrown up (the original muzzle brake pushed the blast downwards as well as upwards and to the sides), thus not giving away the position of the gun. The other advantage was it was of simple design and didn’t require a lot of maintenance, unlike the original brake, that needed dissembling and oiling when not in use. Another modification was the replacement of the monopod with a Bren gun bipod, which helped with production. It also received much simpler fixed sights and the butt padding was reinforced with rubber. These modifications were designated Mk 1* and were officially adopted in 1942, with new rifles being made to this specification, and some original marks being upgraded.

A Mk 1* Boys. Notice the muzzle brake and bipod. Source: acant.org.au
In mid-1942, in order to give Airborne forces some hard-hitting firepower, a lighter and shorter version of the Boys was developed. It used the Mk 1* as a base but shortened the barrel to only 762 mm and got rid of the muzzle break. However, this had the negative effect of increased report and recoil, also less penetration. Numerous parts were made from aluminum to help save on weight. The tradeoff was that these pieces were softer and thus more prone to bending and breaking. The butt padding was also filled with feathers and the bipod was made of lighter metals. There is also conflicting evidence that it was squeeze-bore, using a necked down .55 calibre case for a .303 calibre armor piercing bullet. This was to help save on weight for the airborne troops but still give a high velocity and armor penetration, however, this is countered by some reports stating that the round was solely designed as a training device, as this allowed the Boys to be used on all standard .303 ranges. Very few were produced and the project was canceled in 1943 when the Boys was declared obsolete.
Besides these three official models of the Boys, there were also experiments and other modifications taken. Two Boys Mk Is were produced in a 13.2 calibre (the same calibre as the Tankgewehr of 1918). It has been suggested that this was part of an experiment to give bombers like the Lancaster a hard-hitting defensive gun against frontally-armored German fighters. However, this has been argued against due to the impracticality of having a single-shot gun for aircraft defense. Ian Skennerton mentions in his book, “The Lee-Enfield Story”, that a smoothbore 13.2mm Boys was tested in mid-1945 and it is theorised that it was for testing a sabot round.
Another interesting modification came about during the US Army’s sniping trials. Taking the Canadian produced Mk 1*, it was converted to fire .50 BMG, the barrel was replaced with a M2 Browning barrel and a telescopic sight was fitted. It was reported that this gave it extreme accuracy at over 1,000 yards (914 meters) and some were even issued to combat units.
By the end of 1943, when the weapon ceased production, a total of 114,081 Boys of all marks had been produced.

Baptism of Fire – In Finnish Service

The Boys would see its baptism of fire with Finland during the 1939-40 Russo-Finnish Winter War. During the closing weeks of 1939, the Soviet Union’s invasion of Finland shocked the world and many gave the Finns only a few weeks before they capitulated. Despite the overwhelming odds, the dogged defence of the Finns had stalled the Soviet advance and allowed for military aid to reach the frontlines. Finland was lacking in many modern arms, including anti-tank weaponry and asked any nation for help. The United Kingdom offered to donate 100 of its Boys to the Finnish cause. These arrived in January 1940 and 30 were given to the Swedish Volunteer Corps and the other 70 deployed on the Karelian Isthmus. The weapon was extremely effective at penetrating the armor of the Soviet BT and T-26 tanks but the Finns found that they needed to aim for the crew positions in order to get the best use out of the gun. Out of the 100 in service, only 6 were lost in combat.

Two Swedish Volunteers in early 1940 in Finland carrying Mk 1 Boys. Source:Wikimedia
During the Interim Peace (1940-41), the Finns acquired another 100 Boys from the British and bought 200 more from the Germans (who had captured a large amount from retreating forces during the Battle of France). Given the official designation 14mm pst kiv/37 (Panssarintorjuntakivääri) it was issued at a rate of 4 guns per company and were used throughout the Finnish forces until being replaced by the Lahti L-39. During this part of the war, the Boys had lost its edge and due to the upgrading of Soviet tanks it was now essentially ineffective as an anti-tank weapon and was soon issued to coastal troops or even put into storage. The Finns did find that the gun was good at engaging bunkers and other hardpoints at long range but, due to the muzzle flash, the manuals stressed the need to fire and move. These guns were kept on the official reserve lists until 1956 when the vast majority were sold off to the United States.

British and Commonwealth Service

The Boys was adopted into service by the British Army in 1937 as a Platoon level anti-tank weapon. Soon afterwards it was decided that it would be deployed as a section level weapon. However, by the outbreak of war, the Rifle platoons still only had one Boys per Platoon but the Mechanised Platoons had 4 per platoon, mounted in Universal Carriers.
The British forces employed over 58,000 of the Boys during the Second World War. During the early campaigns, like Norway and France, the Boys performed adequately against the thinly armored Panzer I, II and IIIs. The first German tanks knocked out by British troops were by a Boys during the Norwegian campaign. Sergeant Major John Sheppard of the 1/5th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment (TA) was deployed near the village of Tretten to help protect the right flank when three German Panzers approached his position. Taking up the Platoon’s Boys, which he had never used before, Sheppard fired three rounds into each tank, knocking out two of them and making the rest third retreat. For his actions that day, which helped keep the right flank of the British position solid, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Soldiers of the Rifle Brigade exercising with a Boys in 1939 before the outbreak of war. Source:Imperial War Museum
However, the Boys didn’t garner much favour with the troops, mainly due to its weight (weighing 16kg unloaded, it was roughly the same as a Vickers Machine Gun) and because of its frightful recoil. Anti-tank rifles work by hitting critical parts of the tank which are thus disabled. They do not have any explosive filler to destroy a tank through explosive like anti-tank guns. This meant a tank could take several hits before stopping (if it stopped at all), thus demoralising troops. During the evacuation of Dunkirk, the heavy rifle was left in large numbers upon the beaches.
During the reorganisation in 1941, the Boys was issued at 1 per section for Rifle platoons. Many were mounted on the Universal Carrier in a primitive form of tank destroyer (despite regulations stating that all weapons should be dismounted from the Carrier before use). The weapon also saw mounting upon the Morris CS9 Light Armored Car and Morris Light Reconnaissance Car, Chevrolet WB, the Lanchester 4×2 and 6×4 armored cars, the Humber Light Reconnaissance Car, Marmon-Herrington MKII Armoured Car, and even the World War I-vintage Rolls Royce Armoured Cars.

A Univeral Carrier armed with a Boys. This carrier is painted to represent an ‘enemy’ tank during an anti-invasion exercise in the South of England, 15 June 1941. Source: Imperial War Museum

A pair of Humber Mk III Light Reconnaissance Cars. These vehicles were armed with Bren Guns and Boys Anti-Tank Rifle. Source: Imperial War Museum

Source: DesertRats.com
It was also given to the reformed armies of the Governments in Exile, like Poland, to give them some form of anti-tank protection. These exiled armies were organised along similar lines to the British Army and so the Boys saw issue at platoon level and in similar fashion to the British, it would be replaced in 1943-44 by other more effective infantry mobile anti-tank weapons.

Members of the Polish Armed Forces in the West manning an improvised Armoured Train in Scotland, 1941. These trains were armed with a 6 pounder gun, two Boys anti-tank rifles and six Bren machine guns. Source: Imperial War Museum
The next action for the Boys with the British was during the North African desert fighting. It fared very well against the Italian tanks. Only against the Fiat M13/40, with its 30mm frontal armor, did it struggle. However, the poor tactical handling of the Italian forces meant that it wasn’t really an issue. The Germans had learned the lessons from their 1940 campaigns and had uparmored their Panzers in order to combat the Allied anti-tank capabilities. In the aftermath of Operation Crusader, the British forces conducted a study in which they concluded that no Boys had successfully engaged a tank.
It was the ineffectiveness against newer tanks that saw the Boys being utilised in other roles by the British. For example it was used against fortified positions, especially during the closing stages of the Desert Campaign and the Dieppe Raid. It was declared obsolete by the the end of 1943 and the new platoon level anti-tank weapon would be the PIAT. But the Boys would continue to be kept in the companies of the army for use in an anti-material role.
While its usefulness on the European Front was waning, on the Far Eastern front it remained relevant. Japanese armor was relatively light (the Type 95 had a top thickness of 16mm and the Type 97 30mm) and so easily fell prey to the Boys. The first Japanese tank disabled by Commonwealth forces was a Type 95 Ha-Go at Ahioma in August 1942. Australian forces had used their Boys to bring the tank to a halt and force a surrender. The men of the 1/14th Punjabi Regiment, British Indian Army used their Boys to knock out several Japanese tanks and blunt the assault against their positions in Malaya 1942.

Other usage


A German soldier with a Boys anti-tank Rifle. Source: Axishistory
As mentioned above, the Germans had acquired a large amount of Boys rifles from the retreating British forces in France 1940. These were then redistributed to Static units and other lower tier units for defensive and training works. It was designated the 13,9 mm Panzerabwehrbüchse 782(englisch).

A German-produced pamphlet on the Boys
The United States received 771 Boys Mk.1* from Canada. Some of these were used in the sniper trials as mentioned above. Others were given to the newly formed Ranger battalions, 20 per battalion, but there is no record of their deployment in combat. US Marine Corps “Raiders” used the Boys on their special operations in the Pacific. The most famous use came during the Raid on Makin Island. Two flying boats attempted to land on the lagoon with reinforcements for the Japanese garrison there only to find themselves under fire from a pair of Boys. One was set on fire soon after landing, the other attempted to take off but was so riddled with Boys rounds that no sooner had it left the water than it plunged back in, breaking up. One of the last uses of the Boys came from the Americans.

Members of the United States Marine Corps Raiders manning a Boys during a training exercise in 1943. Source: ibiblio.org
The Soviets received 3,200 of the Boys through the Lend Lease programme. The vast majority of these were deployed with the Universal Carrier and were seen as a vehicle armament, used for engaging hardpoints and soft-skinned vehicles rather than a dedicated anti-tank weapon (they employed their own anti-tank rifles for that). They were also sent to fronts where tanks were less common, like Murmansk, and also to training units. In the run-up to the 1943 Summer campaign, the Soviets requested ‘no less than 500 Universal APCs with a 13.5mm Boys AT rifle.’ Generally, the weapon was much liked by the Soviet soldier, it was seen as more reliable and effective than their own PTRD-41.

A Universal Carrier armed with a Boys in Soviet service. Source: WarThunder Forums
Another user of the Boys was the Republic of China. 6,129 Mk.1* were sent as part of the aid from the Allies in 1942/43. The Chinese utilised the rifle to good effect in ambushes, as showed by the Special Anti-Tank Company of the 85th Army, which used their Boys to knock out two Japanese tanks, and force the rest of the column to retreat in Zhong Yangdian, April 1945. However, they disliked the weight and preferred the more versatile American Bazooka. This meant many of those Boys sent were never used on the frontline. Some of these fell into the hands of the Communist Chinese forces in the ensuing Chinese Civil War, but it is unclear if they were used.

A group of Chinese Nationalist Soldiers practicing with a Boys Anti-Tank rifle. Source: Twitter
Portugal also bought some Boys from Britain during the early stages of the war to help with their shortage of anti-tank weaponry. However, the vast majority didn’t get out of storage due to lack of need and reports of poor performance. Some were sent to Portuguese possessions, such as Macau, in case Japan didn’t respect their neutrality.
An unspecified number of Boys were supplied to the Philippines for their resistance against the Japanese occupation. These saw use similar to how the Chinese deployed them, in ambush positions to take out the thin-skinned Japanese tanks. After the liberation of the Philippines, these rifles were then used during the Hukbalahap Rebellion and by Filipino forces in the Korean War.

Post-WWII use

During the Korean War, the United States Army saw there was a need for a long-range, heavy calibre rifle and Ralph Walker of Selma Alabama converted several Boys to .50 using M2 barrels (similar to their sniper trials during the Second World War) and attaching telescopic sights to them. These were then given to special sniper teams to effectively engaged Chinese and North Korean forces up to 1100 yards away (1005 meters).
Some of these Communist Chinese Boys are suspected to have been sold to Congolese rebels during the Congo Crisis in 1964-65. However, how many and how they were used is indeterminable. Same goes for the Italians during the Second World War, who had acquired an unknown number during the early stages of the Desert Campaign but how they were utilised is not known. There are reports of the Boys having been supplied to members of the Hellenic Army during the initial stages of the Italian invasion of Greece, with some still being in service during the Greek Civil War.
Some were also sold to the Republic of Ireland to help supplement their military forces during the Second World War (known as the Emergency) but, like many other smaller forces, their distribution is unknown. In connection to the Irish Boys, the Official Irish Republican Army is known to have possessed one which they used during an attack on HMS Brave Borderer in September 1965, causing severe damage to one of its turbines.

Irish troops unpacking a Boys Anti-Tank Rifle. Source: Forgotten Weapons
A small, unknown amount was also in use by Jewish Insurgents and later by Israeli Forces in the post-war years.

Israeli troops with a Boys preparing for Operation Horev, 1949. Source: Wikimedia

Performance

The Boys has somewhat of a mixed reputation. Within popular history culture, it is normally maligned as a useless deadweight upon the infantryman. Within academic circles, it is highlighted to have been useful but was obsolete by the time the war was underway. Both sides have valid points to their arguments.
The Boys was noted for its ferocious recoil, with many British soldiers complaining of headaches, bruised or even broken shoulders. This isn’t uncommon though for large caliber anti-tank rifles of the time and it was noted by official papers that the majority of these injuries could be avoided if the individual held the weapon in the correct manner. The dangerous noise level emitted from the gun was recognised by those higher up and regulations stipulated that the weapon must not be fired without ear protection (the first weapon of the British army with mandatory ear protection). Despite this, it still earned a horrible reputation, earning many nicknames like ‘Elephant Gun’ or ‘Charlie the Bastard’. The penetration certainly wasn’t poor. With a muzzle velocity of 884 m/s, the Boys was able to penetrate up to 23.2mm of armor at 100 yards. However, this was the lowest penetration compared to its contemporaries.
During the Winter War, the weapon was at its most effective. The light skinned T-26s and BT-7 tanks which made up the bulk of the Soviet tank arm were vulnerable to the Boys even at ranges up to 400 meters. Finnish tactics stressed the stalling of Soviet columns upon the sparse road networks on the Russo-Finnish border and using ambush tactics with hit and run to cripple the invaders. The long range and heavy punch of the Boys allowed this. Even during the more conventional warfare on the Karelian Isthmus, the Boys performed well as a long-range sniping weapon, being accurate up to long ranges.
During the British Campaigns of 1940, it was effective against the Panzer Is and IIs, as well as all the lightly armored half-tracks and scout cars used by the German forces. The occasional stories of Boys being useless against German tanks (often either embellishments or half-truths when against Panzer IIIs and IVs) spread far and wide and created a sense of panic and uselessness that was exacerbated by the general confusion and panic of the French Campaign. Even in the Desert, it was able to combat the Italian and majority of German forces until the upgraded Panzer IIIs and IVs appeared.

A Boys Mk1* in its packed and stripped down form. Source:DesertRats.com
The biggest issues with the Boys came from its heavyweight, despite being designated as a man-portable weapon, it weighed as much as a Vickers Machine Gun. It wasn’t uncommon for the Boys to be passed unto the new guy or platoon miscreant and it almost always is seen being marched between two men. It was this weight that meant it needed to be in a prepared position and thus didn’t suit the more mobile, fluid nature of the modern battlefield. It was mainly down to this reason why it was one of the first weapons to be abandoned during a retreat and why specialist groups like the Long Range Desert Patrol and the Special Air Service replaced it with other weapons (like the M2 Browning) as soon as possible.
Another issue came from the misunderstanding of its deployment. As it was designated ‘Anti-Tank’, the common soldier and officer alike expected it to perform in a similar fashion to a 2 pounder, that is, destroying a tank. The Boys was meant to work in conjunction with other weapons to allow the infantry platoon to combat armor. Its primary purpose was to incapacitate an armored vehicle so it may be dealt with by more specialised anti-tank weapons or even infantry borne explosives. However, the word of an infantryman travels fast within the British army and it wasn’t long that those who returned from France had whipped up such a reputation about the Boys that the Commanders were forced to act. Numerous pamphlets were issued explaining the correct handling and deployment of the weapon, like aiming for tracks, vision ports, gripping the rear handle and pushing into the shoulder. There is also a famous example of combating this rumor. Disney was commissioned by the Canadian Directorate of Military Training, the Canadian Department of National Defence and the National Film Board of Canada to produce an animated and live action educational film on the proper use and handling of the Boys. The end scene states “a rifle is like a woman, treat her right and she will never let you down”. It also didn’t help that most of the ranges within the UK were not capable of handling the Boys and so training with it was limited.

A still from the Disney film, ‘Crack That Tank’ commissioned by Canada to help dismiss the rumours about the Boys. Source: Rifleman.orh.uk
Due to the constant upgrading of Axis tanks in face of more superior and widespread Allied anti-tank weaponry (especially those for the infantryman like the Bazooka and PIAT), the Boys was left behind. This didn’t mean it wasn’t useful though. It was still kept in Divisional inventory until the end of the war. It found uses like long range sniping, anti-fortification and convoy ambushing. This was especially appreciated during the Italian campaign, where Italian and German strong points could effectively hold off much larger forces. The Boys was able to penetrate sandbags and even rocks in order to negate the Axis advantage. Tests conducted in early 1940 showed that the Boys could penetrate up to 355mm of concrete and 254mm of sandbags.
While the Boys gained a much-undeserved reputation, when one looks at its combat records, it speaks for itself. It was a weapon that could, when in the right hands, perform well. As one Australian says after a battle in the desert, “The Italians counterattacked with nine tanks and hundreds of infantrymen. Private O.Z. Neall knocked out three Italian tanks with his Boyes anti-tank rifle, a feat that astounded everyone —the Boyes rifle was noted for its uselessness.”

An American propaganda poster showing a British ‘Tommy’ with a Boys slung over his shoulder. Source:Rifleman.org.uk

Specifications

Caliber .0.5507 in. (13.99 mm)
Barrel Lenght 36 in. (910 mm); Airborne: 30 in. (762 mm)
Overall Lenght 5 ft 2 in (1.575 m); Airborne: 4 feet 8 inches (1.427 m)
Weight, unloaded 13lb (16.3 kg)
Practical Rate of Fire 10 rounds per minute
Muzzle velocity Mk I: 747 m/s (2,450.1 ft/s); Mk II: 884 m/s (2,899.5 ft/s)
Effective firing range 23.2mm penetration at 90° 100 yards (91 m); 18.8mm penetration at 90° 500 yards (460 m)
Feed system 5-round detachable box magazine
Action repeater, cylinder lock (bolt action)

Links & Resources

Rifleman.org.uk
Jaegerplatoon- AT Rifles
Zaloga, Steven J. , The Anti-Tank Rifle, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018
Weeks, John S. , Men against tanks: a history of anti-tank warfare, Mason/Charter, 1975
War Office, Boys Anti Tank Rifle Mark I, Aldershot Gale and Polden Limited, 1944
War Office, Small Arms Training Volume I, Pamphlet No. 5 Anti-Tank Rifle 1942


The Boys Anti-Tank Rifle. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Categories
German tactics Soviet tactics

The Soviet Counter-Attack at Verba

30th of June 1941

Operation Barbarossa

On the 22nd of June 1941, the Soviet Union was attacked by the armed forces of Germany and its allies. From the Baltic sea in the north, to the Black Sea in the south, three German army groups, comprising about 3,000 tanks, 5,000 planes, and nearly 3,000,000 men, attacked the Soviet Union with the aim of total domination of the lands of the USSR for Leibensraum “living space”.
Army Group North was to capture the Baltic states and Leningrad, Army Group Centre was to strike at Moscow, and Army Group South was to capture Kiev. Army Group South was first to strike from Poland and capture the frontier cities such as Lvov and Zhytomir.
While Operation Barbarossa would eventually stall out just short of reaching Moscow the Germans were successfully repulsed from the capital by Soviet counterattacks, the cost to the Red Army was immense. According to Soviet sources, the Red Army lost more than 800,000 soldiers killed, 1.2 million wounded or sick and more than 2.3 million captured. Sources claim that, during 1941, the Soviets lost around 6.29 million small arms, 101,000 guns, 10,600 aircraft, 325 ships, 20,500 tanks, 3,000 armored cars and 159,000 other vehicles (trucks, tractors, cars). While there is generally no consensus on these numbers, what is accepted is that the Soviet losses were extremely high and would have broken any other army of the time.
These huge losses also lead to the effective removal of certain older and out of production models of tanks from the Red Army, including the gargantuan T-35A. Almost all were lost by the end of 1941, most from drivetrain problems. However, some T-35s did fight back, counter-attacking the Germans at Verba, in north-western Ukraine. But, in what seems to be a recurring situation for the Soviet Armored forces during those desperate days, the assault consisted solely of tanks, with no infantry, artillery or aircraft support.

T-35A in the fight

Of the forty-eight T-35A tanks deployed in the 8th Mechanised Corps, all were lost by the 6th of July, just 15 days after the fighting started. Fortunately, the documentation from the 67th and 68th Tank Regiments survived, and provide valuable insight into the combat performance of the T-35A.
Of the 48 T-35A’s that were deployed in the 8th Mechanized Corps, all tanks were lost in the withdrawal from their garrisons east of Lvov to Zhitomir.
Some T-35As were driven to Zhitomir from Dubno, originally deployed between Lvov and Przemysl, being chased all the way by the German front line. Most T-35As were lost on this march rather than in combat due to mechanical issues.
The T-35As were slowly being picked off either though breakdowns or the occasional enemy engagement, while on the march from their bases to the east of Lvov. A few tanks turned around and fought back, inflicting some casualties onto the Germans.

Counterattack

There was only one real documented engagement in which the T-35A tank was used, destroyed in combat, and later photographed. On the 24th of June 1941, two days after the invasion of the USSR, the German Army found a gap between the Soviet 5th and 6th Armies. This was exploited to create a corridor lead by the XXXXVIII Motorized Corps, which included the 11th Panzer Division and the 16th Panzer Division.
The Red Army was not unaware that the German Army (Panzergruppe 1) had found this gap, and moved to meet the Germans on their flanks. The Soviet 8th, 9th, 15th and 19th Mechanized Corps were ordered to meet the Germans and engage them.
The bulk of the fighting that involved the T-35A was between Dubno (which was recaptured on 28 June by the 8th Mechanized Corps) and Brody, which was never liberated in the counterattack. It was between these two towns that a handful of T-35s engaged the enemy. According to the records of the men of the 16th Panzer Division and the records of the losses of the 34th Tank Division, four T-35As, two BT-7s, two T-26s and a KV-1 attacked the German flank at Verba. This was where elements the 16th Panzer Division were laid up – this village had previously been captured on June 27th.
The attack was conducted without infantry support and did not have any main goals other than driving the enemy out of Verba. There was no Soviet artillery support or air support. The Germans, on the other hand, had access to air support.
It is reported that the Soviets achieved cutting the communications between the 16th Panzer Division and the 6th Army. However, all of the attacking Soviet tanks were lost in the engagement.

Verba

The village of Verba is located in western Ukraine, is situated between the towns of Dubno and Brody. To the north-east was the village of Pitch’ye, and to the south-west lay Hranivka. These three villages were on a major road that ran north-east from Lvov to the city of Rivne.

A map of Verba (Werba) and Dubno from 1936. Before 1939, this area belonged to Poland, hence the Polish names. One can see the main road and railway line from Lvov to Kiev. Sorce: https://igrek.amzp.pl/
The village of Verba sat on a corner of the road as it changed direction from east to northeast, with the road not actually going through Verba, rather passing to the north of the village. Verba also sits on the northern bank of the Ikva River, which had a rather large floodplain roughly a kilometer either side of the river. Verba is positioned on the hill on the northern side of this river basin.
The village of Verba was very typical of Ukraine, with an Orthodox church and perhaps no more than twenty houses at that time of the war. The Lvov-Kiev railway passes through Verba, which has a small station.
The main road to the north of Verba was a dirt road, which had a smaller dirt support road. Between these roads was a small drainage ditch that varied in height. The road was straight as it approached Verba, however it curved to the north as it passed Verba. Where the road curved, the road went down the side of the Ikva river flood basin banks. As it curved the road dropped by about 10 meters, with a steep bank on the river side of the road and a small hill to the north of the road.

A 1931 map of Verba or, as it was known then, Werba. The junction at the center left of the map is the described curve in the road, with the village to the south of the road, along with the Ikva floodplain. Source: https://igrek.amzp.pl/
On the curve in the road was a small junction to enter Verba from the east, and posts were placed every meter to indicate to traffic the drop on the other side of the road. After this curve north, the road flattens, with a small drop to the south where the river floodplain was, and a small hill to the north. The road was straight from there to Pich’ya.

Prelude to Battle

The village of Verba was once Polish territory and in September 1939 was captured from Poland and given to Ukraine, to whom the Lviv Oblast now belongs. On September 19th, 1939, Polish Cavalry units attacked a Soviet force of BA-10 armored cars at Verba, losing 50 men in this attack.
Between the wars, Verba was another quiet village, until the Germans attacked the USSR on 22 June 1941.
The village of Verba was captured by German forces on 27 June 1941. It is not known exactly how the road was captured, however, photographic evidence from Verba shows that a Soviet truck, likely a ZiS-5, was lost on the road, and a Panzer II turret has been found in the ditch between the two roads on the northern side.
From the 26th of June 1941, the Soviet counter-attack against Panzergruppe 1 began. This huge battle is often called “The Battle of Brody” or “The Bloody Triangle”. Some historians have suggested that it was this battle that should be called the biggest tank battle in history, not Kursk.

A map of the German assault on Ukraine. One can see that the XXXXVIII Mot Assault between Dubno and Brody. Some notes on the names on the map, before the Soviet occupation of the area, the City of Lviv was called Lwow. Under the Soviet occupation, Lwow became Lvov. Then, the German name for the city was Lemberg. Finally, after the fall of the USSR, Lvov was renamed Lviv and is currently Ukrainian territory. Source: Panzer Archive
The Village of Verba had seen some more action on June 29th, 1941, during a night attack, the Soviet infantry had successfully engaged and captured some Panzer III tanks from the 16th Panzer Division. Some speculation is that perhaps the Panzer III seen at Verba might have been previously involved in the fighting during the night before the main Soviet counter attack.
The Battle for Brody lasted for four days, from 26 June to 30 June 1941 and involved 585 German tanks and 3,046 Soviet tanks. Therefore, a total of 3,631 tanks were involved in this titanic battle.
After the battle of Brody, which included the Battle of Verba, 408 German and every single Soviet tank was destroyed. The counter-attack almost crippled Army Group South, however, left no enemy for this battered force to face, as everything in their way had been used and destroyed.
The Battle of Verba was perhaps the last engagement of the Soviet Counter-attack. After the previous three days of battle, Verba had elements of the 16th Panzer Division and the XXXXVIII Motorized Division positioned in and around the village.
The Soviets were positioned at Pich’ye and were poised to make a last-ditch attempt to breakout west. The assaulting force consisted of four T-35As (chassis numbers 148-30, 220-25, 988-16 and 0200-0), two BT-7 tanks, two T-26 tanks and a single KV-1.
By June 30th, the fourth day of the Soviet attempted counter-attack, both the Soviet and German units were exhausted from constant attack and counter-attack. However, the Germans were certainly fairing better, even though the odds were still numerically against them.
On the night off June 29th, a German reconnaissance flight picked up over 100 Soviet tanks between Dubno and Pitch’ye. Some of the tanks were noted to be heavy multi-turreted tanks. The bulk of this force moved east to clear German bridgeheads at Zaslaw, south-east of Verba. However, a small group of vehicles drove south-west to attack the Germans at Verba.
These vehicles advanced southwest down the two roads towards the village of Verba. Currently, it is hypothesized from the photographic evidence that on the left-hand main road was T-35 0200-0, T-35 220-25, the two T-26 tanks and the KV-1. It is theorized that T-35 148-39, T-35 988-16, and the two BT-7s were on the right-hand support road.

Vehicles involved

Soviet side

T-35A 0200-0
T-35A 0200-0 was manufactured in 1938 and was equipped with an anti-aircraft gun in a P-40 rotating mount. The tank had no clothesline antenna and notable features include amplified machine gun turret faces and the late type interior exhaust. All of the T-35s in the battle were from the 68th Tank Regiment. The regiment was ordered to paint two shirt white lines on the turret side to denote this regiment, and all T-35s in the battle were equipped with this mark.

T-35A 220-25
220-25 was manufactured in 1936 and had early features like the single turret escape hatch. However, due to the combat damage, the least is known about this tank’s features. Only recently has evidence of the turret come to light.
The chassis displays signs of heavy modification. The front idler wheels of the tank were replaced with stamped wheels without the usual holes of the cast spider type wheels. The driver’s hatch was replaced with the “BT” type driver’s hatch. This hatch is known as the “BT” type due to its resemblance to the BT-7 conical turreted tank’s escape hatches. The exhaust was also the interior type exhaust.
T-35A 148-39
Originating from the first production batch of T-35s, T-35A 148-39 was an early type tank that had been updated during the pre-war years. As it was from the first production batch, the clothesline antenna only had six arms to attach it to the turret. This had been totally removed pre-war and only the six square feet remained. The tank had been modernized with an internal exhaust system.
T-35A 988-16
The last T-35 at Verba, 988-16 was manufactured in 1938 and displayed a mixture of early and late features. The exhaust was the early exterior type, and the driver’s vision hatch was also an early version. The tank also had the clothesline antenna intact.
KV-1
A single KV-1 was present, likely a part of the 34th Tank Division and probably the 67th Tank Regiment, however, this is not known for sure. It was likely a part of this division, as the vehicle was painted with white air identification triangles, which was common for the 8th Mechanized Corps, and specifically the 34th Tank Division.
The KV in question was manufactured between April and May 1941 due to the technical features of the tank, which include a bolted rear turret ball mount and the placement of the turret handrail between the turret periscopes rather than behind the rearmost turret side periscope.
BT-7
Two BT-7 fast tanks were present at the battle. Each machine was equipped with a cylindrical turret and both machines were equipped with the K-20 45mm gun rather than the Model 1934 45mm gun. The exterior distinguishing feature of the K20 gun was the welded construction of the mantlet, whereas the Model 1934s mantlet was pressed into shape, giving it a rounded appearance.
At least one BT-7 was painted with white air identification triangles on the turret side, placed over a serial number “434”. The second BT was too badly burned to make out the turret markings, however, it likely had a similar scheme.
T-26
One, but possibly two T-26 tanks were deployed at Verba. Both tanks found are commonly called the “Model 1940” standard of T-26, although this is incorrect as the machine was introduced in 1939. The tanks both had a conical turret and both machines were equipped with the 20mm upper hall armor that was angled. Both tanks were also painted with white air identification triangles, however at least one T-26 had this re-painted green, and a simple line divisional marking was painted onto the turret side. This marking has been identified as that of the 67th Tank Regiment, which also fielded T-35A tanks, however, these were not present at Verba, nor did any T-35 get painted with the 67th Tank Regiments divisional marking.

German side

Not much is known about the German side of the Battle of Verba. What is known is that at least two Panzer III Tanks were present from the 16th Panzer Division, and men of the XXXXVIII Motorized Division were present. An 88mm Flak gun was deployed in a defensive position to the east of Verba, and support vehicles, likely also from the 16th Panzer Division, were present.
One Panzer III was an Ausf.G variant, with a short 50mm gun and exterior brackets for the extra jerry can stowage, whereas the other machine was a Panzer III Ausf J, which was also equipped with a short 50mm gun and extra jerry can stowage. These Panzer IIIs were photographed far less than the T-35s, however, a single turret digit has been found on the Panzer III G, the number being “2XX”

The battle

The left-side group

It should be noted that both columns of tanks attacked at the same time, and worked somewhat together. The divide between two columns was less than three meters, and the two columns were only separated by a drainage ditch between the two roads.
The left-hand group consisted of two T-35As, the two T-26 tanks, and the KV-1 heavy tank. On 30 June, while attacking the 16th Panzer Division, these vehicles were driving south-west down the Verba road on the left-hand road. This placed the drainage ditch between the roads on the right of the vehicles
It is thought that T-35A 0200-0 was in front of the line of tanks on the left road. Spearheading this column, the tank took heavy fire from the front and the sides. The village of Verba was to the south off the road and was occupied by the Germans. A railway line crossed the field to the south of Verba.
0200-0 appears to have been an early casualty. Likely due to track damage or even the death of the driver, the tank crashed into the ditch between the two roads. The front right idler wheel sunk into the soft ground and 0200-0 was firmly stuck. The tank likely fought on in this position, as the rear turret was facing the Germans. The barrel of this 45mm gun was actually hit and put out of action.

Moments after the guns fell silent, 0200-0 lays in the ditch between the two main roads, Only minutes passed before the T-26 would be moved into the ditch between the roads. Source: “Fallen Giants: The Combat Debut of the T-35A Tank” by Francis Pulham, Francis Pulham Collection.
The main turret’s P-40aa mount was equipped with its 7.62mm DT-29 machine gun and it was likely engaging German infantry. No bodies of the crew have been found in the photographic evidence, however it is almost certain that there were casualties.

Perhaps July 1st or 2nd, 0200-9 and the T-26 are now nothing more than photograph opportunities for German soldiers. Source: “Fallen Giants: The Combat Debut of the T-35A Tank” by Francis Pulham, Francis Pulham Collection.
A T-26 model 1940 belonging to the 34th Tank Division was lost next to 0200-0. It likely reversed into the wreck of 0200-0 judging by the photographic evidence. The tank was originally lost on the road, however it was swiftly pushed into the drainage ditch that 0200-0 had fallen into.
The T-26 displays no obvious damage other than a single hit to the front left-hand fender. It is likely that the tank reversed into 0200-0 after the destruction of 148-39. 148-39 was destroyed by air attack, and blew up in spectacular fashion, therefore it is not difficult to speculate that the crew of the T-26 did not want to share the same fate.

The T-26 lost with T-35A 0200-0. Notice the minor damage that includes a small penetration to the front fender, and the missing gun-shield. Source: “Fallen Giants: The Combat Debut of the T-35A Tank” by Francis Pulham, Francis Pulham Collection.
220-25 was likely behind 0200-0, but in front of the lighter tanks on that day. The tank made it past the wreck of 0200-0 and was likely responsible for the few German tank casualties of that day. The Verba road gradually increased in gradient and then curved to the right. A road crossed this north to south.

This photograph was taken on June 30th, 1941, by a man of the 16th Panzer Division. Other photographs from this collection indicate that the man was present at the battle of Verba. Here, 220-25 after suffering a direct bomb hit. Source: Francis Pulham Collection
It was here that T-35A 220-25 was bombed by a Ju-87 dive bomber. The tank was torn in half by the impact and subsequent bomb detonation.
The main turret was thrown from the hull by the explosion and landed in the main road (from where it was very quickly removed after the battle). The rear turrets stayed in place, however, the front 45mm gun turret was blown sky high, to land in front of the tank. The rear pedestal remained intact, but the front portion was obliterated. The hull was cut in two behind the front suspension bogie on the right-hand side of the tank.

220-25 once again. In the background, smoke can be seen around 148-39. This photograph was also from the 16th Panzer Division. Source: Francis Pulham Collection
The wreck was left in place until 1942, when it was moved off the road, when the front portion completely fell off.
The KV-1, also from the 34th Tank Division of the 8th Mechanized Corps, was knocked out east of 0200-0. It seems that this vehicle was retreating, as it faced eastward, with the tank’s rear facing the Germans. The turret was turned around, probably trying to engage the enemy.
The KV displays multiple penetrations and ricochets to the turret sides and rear, with the most noticeable damage being the dislodging of the transmission, discernible by the shifting of the drivetrain to the right which removed the drive wheel’s hubcap.
The earliest photographs show the KV-1 still on the roadside, but it appears that within the hour of the battle ending, the KV-1 and the T-26 were pushed to the roadside into the ditch between the two roads.

This KV-1 was also lost at Verba. 0200-0 can be seen on the right. Source: “Fallen Giants: The Combat Debut of the T-35A Tank” by Francis Pulham, Francis Pulham Collection.
The last vehicle in the group, another T-26 Model 1940, made it the furthest east of all the tanks, finally being lost near T-35A 988-16 from the right side group. However, not much is known about this tank, as the Germans preferred to photograph the T-35s.

The right side group

Speculations place two T-35s and the two BT-7s on the right hand support road. On 30 June, this group advanced south west down the Verba road in the right hand lane, with the drainage ditch between the roads on the left of the vehicles.
The T-35A 148-39 was likely first in the column of tanks on the right-hand road. This tank drove past the point where 0200-0 was lost. To the tank’s left was the drainage ditch in which 0200-0 had fallen and on the right was a steep hillside, with a wooded area and a building on top of this hill. Past this was a flat piece of land, level with the road that 148-39 was driving on.

148-39 dates from the first batch of T-35s. It was also one of the more heavily damaged tanks. The two BT-7s can be seen in this photograph, although the rear tank, number “434” has been moved forward of its original resting place. Source: “Fallen Giants: The Combat Debut of the T-35A Tank” by Francis Pulham, Francis Pulham Collection.
It is thought that when the tank reached 0200-0, the Soviets were attacked by Ju-87 dive bombers. The tank turned to the right and had nearly completely exited the road, however the dive bombers could not miss such an open target.
148-38 blew up in a spectacular explosion. The entire upper structure of the tank was opened like a can, with the main turret, turret pedestal and all of the sub turrets being blown off the tank.

The main turret of 148-39, along with other debris. One can clearly see the three-foot plates where the antenna used to be attached to. This is a clear indicator that the machine is a 148 chassis number. Source: “Fallen Giants: The Combat Debut of the T-35A Tank” by Francis Pulham, Francis Pulham Collection.
The main turret landed on the road that 148-39 was advancing up. The forward 45mm turret landed on the hill to the right of this flattened area. The rear MG turret landed in the drainage ditch between the roads. The rear 45mm gun turret landed back onto the destroyed hull of 148-39.

The forward interior of 148-39. The machine gun turret ring is on the left, and the 45mm gun turret’s position is on the right. One can see the 45mm ammunition stowage in the forward wall. Source: Francis Pulham Collection

The rear interior of 148-39. Notice the rear gun removal access door for the 45mm gun in the turret. Source: “Fallen Giants: The Combat Debut of the T-35A Tank” by Francis Pulham, Francis Pulham Collection.
Some of the bombs aimed at 148-39 missed, creating deep craters to the east of the wreck. No crew survived this incident.
Between 0200-0 and 148-39, two BT-7s tanks were lost. The westernmost tank had burned out, whereas the second vehicle seems to lack any damage. It is possible that the first BT-7 was destroyed by enemy aircraft, however no apparent damage other than the burned surface can be found, no penetrations or bomb damage.

A view of the Verba road. T-35A 0200-0 would be behind the camera. T-35A 148-39 sits on the roadside, and one can see T-35 220-25 up the road. Source: “Fallen Giants: The Combat Debut of the T-35A Tank” by Francis Pulham, Francis Pulham Collection.
As for the second BT-7, it is possible that it either suffered a mechanical breakdown or that the crew panicked when the German planes attacked (or when they took out the two T-35As) and abandoned the vehicle.

The two BT-7s lost at Verba. These were the original positions of the tanks before the rearmost vehicle was moved forward next to the front tank. Source: Francis Pulham Collection
The last Soviet vehicle in the battle, T-35A 988-16, was likely situated in the right-hand lane, however, this is the most uncertain position, as the tank could have crossed from one side of the road to the other.
988-16 successfully passed the wrecks of 0200-0, 148-39 and 220-25, before cresting the hill at Verba, with the village to the south of the tank. 988-16 passed the village itself, and drove another 50 meters west.
The tank took a hail of fire, to the front of the hull and turrets. Upon reaching this long straight road west of the battle, the tank met a well hidden FlaK 37 88mm anti-aircraft gun.

988-16 made it furthest east of any T-35 during the battle. This photograph was taken shortly after the battle. A dead crewman can be seen in the ditch, partially covered by the watermark. The damage that 988-16 took was great. Source: Francis Pulham Collection
The thin frontal armor of the T-35 was little match for the heavy shell of the FlaK gun and a hit, likely to the front machine gun turret, was enough to stop the monster in its tracks. The face of the front machine gun turret was blown completely off and many other items were shot off or damaged.

T-35A 988-16 shortly after the battle. The photographer has kindly annotated the image to reveal the location of the 88mm Flak gun. Source: “Fallen Giants: The Combat Debut of the T-35A Tank” by Francis Pulham, Francis Pulham Collection.
The KT-28 main gun was shot out of its cradle, the turret cheek MG mount was blown out of its ball, the front 45mm gun turret’s periscope was shot away, the clothesline antenna was damaged, and many other items were removed. Apart from a single T-26, this was the furthest point for the Soviet counter-attack at Verba.

A close inspection of the nose of 988-16 reveals the large number of hits the tank took before being stopped. One headlight is missing, there are many penetrations to the hull and turrets, the KT-28 gun has taken hits, and the ball mount is maying on the floor in front of 988-16, however new photographic evidence suggests this was placed there by German soldiers, as it originally lay on the front 45m turret. Source: “Fallen Giants: The Combat Debut of the T-35A Tank” by Francis Pulham, Francis Pulham Collection.

It is unknown whether this T-26 was lost in the fighting on June 30th 1941. This tank was lost close to 988-16, with the row of trees concealing the Flak 88 being in this frame. Reasons for this tank not being in this battle is the fact that the tank is facing east, implying it had to turn around; however another clue that this T-26 was indeed involved in the fighting, is that it has the turret markings that match with the T-26 lost next to 0200-0. Unfortunately, of all of the tanks at Verba, this humble T-26 is by far the rarest to find photographically, as the Germans preferred to photograph the T-35s that were less than 30 meters east of this machine. Source: Francis Pulham Collection.

German casualties

The Russians did not have the monopoly on casualties; at least two German Panzer III tanks were knocked out of action, along with about three German trucks.
The Panzer III Ausf J was on the left-hand side of the road and likely took hits to the tank’s left side, as this was facing the Soviet columns. The tank’s road wheels seem to have dug into the mud of the roadside.

A View of the Verba road from the photographic record of a man from the 16th Panzer Division. Smoke still billows from 220-25 and 148-39. A Panzer III Ausf.J can be seen on the left. A second tank was knocked out behind the camera. Source: Francis Pulham Collection

The same Panzer III as in the previous photograph. While no damage can be seen from this side, the exposed left side likely took a battering from the hail of fire from up to four T-35s. Source: Francis Pulham Collection

The Panzer III Ausf J after tracks had been removed. Unfortunately, photographs of these tanks are rare, as German soldiers preferred to photograph the T-35s. Source: Francis Pulham Collection

A rare view of the rear of the Panzer III Ausf J, to T-35A 220-25. The damage to the Panzer III is clear, however compared to the T-35, minor. Source: Francis Pulham Collection.
The Panzer III Ausf G was lost 25 meters in front of 220-25, in the drainage ditch between the two roads. One 45mm gun penetration can be found on the tank’s left side, likely not the shot that disabled the tank, as the front right drive wheel was totally removed from the tank, also taking off the track. The rear right idler wheel was also removed from the tank.

The Panzer III Ausf G. T-35A 220-25 was positioned in front and to the left of this tank. Notice the 45mm penetration to the hull side. Source: Francis Pulham Collection

A general map of the battle of Verba. One can see the large scattering of vehicles. From right to left: Green represents the KV-1. Next, T-35A 0200-0 (red) and the T-26 (Orange). Next the two BT-7 tanks (Yellow), and T-35A 148-39 (red). The next three tanks are the two Panzer III tanks (grey), and T-35A 220-25 (red). The Panzer III J is north of 220-25, and the Panzer III G is east of 220-25. Next, unmarked on the map was a small collection of destroyed trucks. The last red square is T-35A 988-16. The green ‘X’ Represents the 88mm Flak gun and, finally, the T-26 (orange). Source: Fallen Giants: The Combat Debut of the T-35A Tank.

Post-battle

The village of Verba was scattered with vehicles and, throughout the duration of the war, the Germans slowly dismantled the vehicles left, and moved them to the roadside. After the war, the Soviets dismantled what was left, thereby leaving no physical survivors.
During the postwar era, the main road from Brody to Dubno was redirected north of Verba and was renamed the E40 highway. Verba itself has been greatly built upon, with much of the new village being extended north of the old major road.
A gas station has now additionally been built roughly where the KV-1 was lost. The wartime main road is still in use today, and thanks to google earth you can now virtually visit the battlefield.

Sources

Most of the information about the battle action was inferred by post-combat photographs and the information given in the documented losses of the T-35s. However, one actual combat photograph exists, whereas all other photographs known to experts are post-combat photographs, and have been brought to light through painstaking photographic research.
In January 2018, fresh evidence was found from a soldier of the 16th Panzer Division in the form of his photo album, that detailed elements of the battle. The photographs are presented above, and are now a part of the extensive “Francis Pulham Collection”. More information is required to fully trace this epic battle, however, only time will reveal more information.
Fallen Giants: The Combat Debut of the T-35A Tank – Francis Pulham
T-34 Medium Tank- Mikhail Baryatinsky, chapter “First Combat”, pages 68-72
Private conversations with Sergey Lotarev
Private conversations with Mikko Heikkinen
Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century, Col.Gen.G.F.Krivosheev, ISBN 978-1853672804
www.t35incombat.narod.ru – Sergey Lotarev
www.axishistory.com

Categories
AT weapons WW2 Italian AT Weapon

60mm Lanciabombe

Italian armour ww2 Kingdom of Italy (1943-45)
Experimental Anti-Tank Weapon – 1 Built

null
Sketch plan of prototype anti-tank weapon. Source: Report 311

Desperate Times

When nations have their backs against the wall and are facing a fight for their existence, there tends to be an abundance of rather unusual weapons. Some of the weapons developed by the Home Guard in Great Britain in the Second World War, like the Northover projector, are good examples of this. Italy, with a long tradition of firearms manufacture, was no different and already had extensive experience with grenade firing and small mortars. In 1943 though, their mainland had been invaded by the Allies as they had already lost control of the island of Sicily. Tank production was in a poor state and the Allies’ superiority with tanks left a very bleak outlook for the Kingdom of Italy in the War. An expedient anti-tank weapon was called for.
null
Carcano Model 91/24 T.S. The exact variant used is not known. Source: candrsenal.com

Development

The call for this expedient and simple anti-tank weapon came from the Ministry for War prior to the armistice of the 8th September 1943. It was to combine parts from a mortar and a carbine fitted together to form a rather crude, very large caliber gun firing a shaped charge shell. The Italians had already produced a production model carbine with an attached grenade launcher which used a bullet capture system as far back as 1928. This was along very similar lines to the new requested weapon and may have served as some of the inspiration behind it. The Technical Section of the Ministry for War had already made some preliminary experiments prior to September 1943 and the results were promising.
null
Model 1928 Tromboncino grenade launcher (both with bolt in carbine and with bolt in grenade launcher) based on the Model 91/28 carbine. Source: modernfirearms.net
The weapon was given the go-ahead but, by the time of the armistice, only a single experimental prototype had actually been constructed, although performance trials were underway by September 1943.
With just this one prototype constructed by the time of the armistice, the unidentified Italian officer in charge of the project hid the weapon and all of the paperwork associated with it, to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Germans.
When the Allies entered Rome in June 1944 this hidden secret weapon and associated paperwork was removed from its hiding place and taken by the Italian officer to the US Army G-2 Headquarters in Rome (APO 794).
The weapon was examined by Major Russell Fisher and the design was closely discussed between him and the Italian officer who even offered to demonstrate the weapon, as he claimed to have fired the weapon many times, from a standing position without difficulty. This offer though was not carried out.
null
Compact CEMSA 63.5mm L25.5 mortar which may have been the origin of the barrel. This weapon could throw a 2kg shell well over 300m. Source: CEMSA

Design of the Weapon

The experimental model was, like most prototypes, rather crude. It was made by means of a redundant 60mm mortar tube and a cut down stock from a carbine fastened together. The 60mm shell was propelled from the barrel by means of a black powder cartridge inserted into the breech of the carbine under the barrel.
The drawings do not appear to show any variation from the original magazine or firing mechanism of the Model 91 rifle and therefore it is believed it would use the same 6.5x52mm cartridge.
Upon a pull of the trigger, this blank round was fired in the manner of a normal bullet except that the explosive gases upon leaving the very short barrel, instead of propelling a bullet, were directed into a large expansion chamber under the mortar barrel and then directed to the mortar round. Just like the smaller Brixia mortar, this weapon was fired by means of a magazine fed blank cartridge and a rapid rate of fire would be able to be obtained. Reloading would be by the simple means of putting a new shell into the barrel at the muzzle and then cycling the bolt action of the rifle to chamber a new blank cartridge. The rifle had a six-round clip inside and, assuming these blank rounds simply replaced the old live rounds, only shells would have to be loaded for the first six rounds.

null
Rifle calibre blank cartridge containing the 1.9 grams of ballistite propellant. Source: Report 311

null
Example of the type of blank initiator round used. This example is for the 45mm Brixia mortar. Source: not known

Propulsion System

The expanding gasses released from the combustion of the 1.9 grams of ballistite in the blank cartridge were directed into the expansion chamber. This chamber was connected by two short barrels backward (towards the firer) and into the breach of the 60mm mortar tube. This unusual mechanism had the disadvantage that not all of the propulsive force of the black powder charge was directed to the mortar round. A lot of energy was lost. It had a significant advantage, however, that the pressure rise in the barrel was very even, permitting a consistent rise in pressure for the propulsion of the shell. The interview with the Italian officer yielded information that, over the course of its short development, various expansion chamber sizes were tested out in order to achieve the required balance in the pressure gradient within the weapon.

null
Detail of gas porting system to move gas from expansion chamber to the rear of the barrel. Source: Report 311


Illustration of the 60mm Lanciabombe by Andrei “Octo” Kirushkin and paid for with funds from our Patreon campaign.

Recoil Management

Recoil was managed in two ways. The first was a very simple spring loaded mechanism in the buttstock of the weapon cushioning the shoulder of the firer. The second part of the recoil management was more complicated, far too complicated for a weapon meant to be an expedient design. This system consisted of a slide onto which the main barrel was mounted. This slide permitted the barrel to move backward and this motion was dampened by means of a spring.
null
Details of sprung shoulder pad as part of recoil management. Source: Report 311

The Shell

The shell itself was very similar to the rather small 45mm Brixia mortar shell and was a short shell just under 30cm long with a rounded nose. The explosive body containing the charge was attached to an aluminum tail section with eight fins approximately 12cm long. This 60mm round weighed just 0.85kg and contained 370 grams of T4 (trimethyl trinitro amine). The explosives were arranged around an inner cone made from steel and a hollow front section. The rounded nose was a simple cap made from steel. The charge was detonated upon striking a hard target by means of an instantaneous fuze in the base of the projectile. This was the same type of fuze used in the Brixia mortar, although work on an armor-piercing shell for the Brixia was discontinued by 1941. The fuze would therefore almost certainly be of an all-aluminum construction like the Brixia M.1939 fuze.
The propelling gases could throw this small shell accurately out to a range of 80 meters in a flat trajectory and when fired in a high arc a maximum bombarding range of 250 meters. Armor penetration was by means of the shaped charge and was found to be able to defeat up to 70mm of armor on a test target consisting of plates of 30 and 40mm thick armor.
null
60mm hollow charge shell. Source: Report 311

null
60mm HEAT round for the weapon. Source: Modified by author to illustrate explosive filler

null
Cross section of the 45mm Brixia shell showing fize system. Source: US Military Manual of enemy ammunition

Conclusion

The weapon never reached production status and the war had already progressed well past the point where even if it had been in mass production it would have made any effective difference. The war for the Axis was lost and this weapon was just one of innumerable lost prototypes and projects. It had no effect on the war but was a novel solution to the problem of a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon. The current location of this weapon handed to the Americans in 1944 is not known.
Specifications:
Calibre: 60mm
Length:
Weight: 7.8kg (unloaded)
Weight of shell: 0.85kg
Weight of explosives: 0.37kg
Anti-armor performance: 70mm
Range: up to 250 meters
Muzzle velocity: 60m/s

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Report 311 ‘Italian Anti-Tank Shoulder Weapon’, Major R. Fisher, US Army, Department of Commerce, 5th December 1944
Andare Contro i Carri Armati, Cappellano and Pignato
https://candrsenal.com
CEMSA 63.5mm Mortar Manual
War Office Pamphlet No.4 Handbook of Enemy Ammunition 1940
Unnamed US Military Manual on enemy ammunition circa 1942
Modern Firearms.net https://modernfirearms.net/en/grenade-launchers/italy-grenade-launchers/tromboncino-m28-eng/

Forgotten Weapons video of the Modello 1928 Tromboncino Grenade Launcher

Categories
Cold War Austrian Tech Cold War French Tech Cold War Swedish Tech Cold War US Tech German tech Tech

Oscillating Turrets

Oscillating turrets were one of the latest trends in tank design in the early years of the Cold War, in the 1950s. The original intention of this type of turret was to make it easier to employ an automatic gun loader in the turret of a tank.
As well as the ability to fit an autoloader, there were other benefits. These included the ability to mount a big gun on a small chassis, have fewer crew members by the omission of the Loader crew member, and have a smaller turret. It also generally allows for a better front profile ballistically.

An AMX-13 90. The AMX-13s is perhaps the most famous and most successful tanks to use oscillating turrets. Photo: The Modeling News.

Design

Oscillating turrets consist of two parts that move on a separate axis. These are the top ‘roof’ section which holds the rigidly mounted main armament which moves up and down. In a conventional turret, the gun moves separately from the turret body, on its own trunnions.
The bottom ‘collar’ part is attached to the ‘roof’ via pivot joints and is fixed directly to the turret ring, allowing conventional 360-degree traverse.

History

Though it seems a relatively modern idea, the oscillating turret design actually goes back as far as the First World War, to a designer by the name of Arnold H. S. Landor. Landor, a British inventor living in Italy, who designed a new armored car in 1915. It featured possibly the first ever oscillating turret, which was armed with 65 or 75mm gun (specifics unknown) mounted on the vehicle’s roof. This was closely followed by an Armored car designed by Joseph Gonsior, Friedrich Opp, and William Frank. A joint project between the USA and Austro-Hungary from 1916, it had a machine gun in an oscillating turret. The elevation/depression was controlled via hand-cranks.
The next time such a component would appear would be in the early 1940s on the French armored car prototype, the Panhard 201. After the German invasion of France, the prototype was evacuated to northern Africa. This armored car was topped off with an oscillating turret that was manually operated and armed with an SA35 25mm gun.

The Panhard 201 with a simple oscillating turret. Photo: SOURCE
Late in the in the Second World War, the turret type was used again, this time as part of the German prototype Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun, the Flakpanzer IV Kugelblitz. This prototype was named after its turret; the name translates to “Lightning Ball”. It consisted of an armored ball mounted on an armored collar connected to the turret ring. The ball, mounting dual 30mm MK 103 cannons, moved independently in elevation, allowing it to target aircraft.
Post Second World War and during the early stages of the Cold War, the French began to lead the way in the development of this type of turret. They invested a great deal of time and money in designing such turrets for light tanks like the AMX-13 and armored cars such as the Panhard EBR (descendant of the 201). The French became the leaders in this technology and was the first (also one of the few) nation to employ this type of turret on a vehicle that saw active service.
Though they were never used on a serial production vehicle, the United States of America also began experimenting with oscillating turret designs in the late 1950s. Such turrets were developed for Light, Medium, and Heavy Tanks. Several prototypes were built to test these turrets, but they were never adopted. This was largely due to the fact that the Americans found no real advantage in using these turrets over the conventional format.

A scale model of the Kugelblitz produced by the designers. Photo: panzernet.net

Advantages

The major advantage of this type of turret was that it made the addition of an autoloader far easier becasue the loading system moves with the gun. In a conventional, rotating turret, an autoloader would have to follow the gun in elevation and depression to align the shell with the breech, and then ram it in. This method was used in the T37, an experimental American light tank. In other cases, such as with the Soviet IS-7 heavy tank, the gun had to be brought back to a neutral elevation after every shot, making engaging a target with multiple shots much slower. This is called the ‘index position’ and its an issue that remains to this day.
Oscillating turrets eliminated the hassle of both of these methods. As the gun was rigidly placed in the upper part of the turret, the autoloader, attached to the upper ‘roof’ section was free to ram shells in whatever the elevation angle the gun. Not only does this system speed up reloading but it allows the gun to stay on target during reloading which improves the speed of second and subsequent shots on target.
In a conventional turret, the breech of the gun sinks into the basket when elevated, meaning that the turret ring has to be of large enough diameter to accommodate this motion. With an oscillating design, the breach remains above the turret ring whatever the angle, meaning that the turret ring can be smaller, ergo, the hull can be smaller allowing for a bigger gun proportionally on a smaller vehicle. However, in this case, the maximum elevation angle is defined by the space between the rear of the turret and the deck of the hull, which may be less than the angles possible in a conventional design where the breach can fall into the hull.

Disadvantages

In this type of turret, the gun is often mounted high-up to grant as much room for elevation and depression as possible. Angles of fire though, were still rather limited when compared to traditional gun mounts. In elevation, the turret bustle would often be mere inches above the engine deck. Mounting the gun high in the turret gives a larger silhouette and easier to spot at distance than the lower-profile conventional turret. This is somewhat offset, however, due to the fact that in a hull-down position less of the turret would be exposed due the height of the gun mount and the improved ballistic shape of the turret
One of the biggest issues with oscillating turrets is that they could not be made safe against NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) attacks. Due to the to their design, there was a gap between the two moving sections of the turret. This was usually covered by waterproof canvas or rubber bellows that shrank and extended with the motion of the turret, but it was not an air-tight seal.

Outcome

The complexity of their design was the downfall of the oscillating turret, with most work on such designs coming to an end in the mid-1980s. To most military bodies, the opinion was shared that the turrets provided ‘no real advantage’ over the traditional format.
Autoloader technology had improved to the point of being compatible with a regular gun and turret layouts, removing the need for such turrets and the disadvantage of not being able to be sealed against NBC had remained a major and unresolved problem.
In 2013, however, a new vehicle with an oscillating turret entered service with the US Military. This is the M1128 Mobile Gun System (MGS). It consists of an unmanned, remote-controlled turret on the hull of the Stryker ICV (Infantry Combat Vehicle). The vehicle is armed with a 105mm M68A2 rifled gun, and is fed by an 8-round autoloader. It is currently one of the only vehicles with an Oscillating turret serving in an active Military.

The M1128 MGS with turret eleveated. Photo: WBS


French AMX-13 75.

Austrian SK-105 Kürassier

American 90mm Gun Tank T69

American Stryker based M1128 Mobile Gun System
Illustrations by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Tanks & AFVs with Oscillating Turrets

France

Panhard EBR: Armored car. In 1940, one of the pilot vehicles, the Panhard 201, was used in testing one of the earliest examples of an oscillating turret. Later models shared turret types and weaponry with the AMX-13. 1954, in service in France until 1981
AMX-13: A series of light tanks. Started out with a cylindrical oscillating turret with non-autoloading 75mm. This progressed to a longer, squarer turret with an autoloading system known as the FL-10. It is perhaps the most successful type of oscillating turret. Armaments progressed from a 75mm gun, to a 90mm and finally a 105mm gun. Entered service in 1952, in service with France until the 1970s, also in the arsenal of countries like Israel, Mexico and Singapore. Singapore only began to retire the tank in 2012.
Char Leger De 12 Tons: Competing design for a light tank, utilising a similar (if not the same) turret as the AMX-13. The major difference was with the running gear based on the classic German interleaved design. Early 1950s, no serial production.
AMX ELC EVEN series: A series of light tanks with various weapons including 30mm, 90mm and 120mm guns. The oscillating turret , consisted of a flat upper part on top of a ‘neck’ joint which was protected behind a truncated material cover. The weapons were often mounted off the center line at the extreme right or left of the turret. 1955, no serial production.
Batignolles-Châtillon Char 25t: Medium tank prototype designed along the same lines as the AMX-13s. It was armed with a 90mm gun and auto-loader. 1954, no serial production.
Lorraine 40t: Medium tank prototype with a unique suspension consisting of pneumatic road-wheels. It was armed with a powerful 100mm gun and autoloader. 1952, no serial production
AMX-50: A series of heavy tank prototypes. The earliest version borrowed much from the Lorraine 40t using a similar turret and the same 100mm gun and autoloading system. The later version incorporated a newer, larger turret design similar to that of the AMX-13’s known as the ‘Tourelle D’ and was armed with a 120mm gun. The AMX-50s borrowed the German style suspension with interleaved road-wheels. Early 1950s, no serial production.
Somua SM: A heavy tank design that competed with the AMX-50. It featured the same turret as the early AMX-50 prototype, armed with a 100mm gun fed by an autoloader. The hull design was heavily inspired by the Tiger II, but used a different individual wheel suspension instead of the famous interleaved type. Early 1950s, no serial production
Medium Tank M4 with FL-10: A number of surplus Sherman tanks were updated by adding the AMX-13’s 75mm armed FL-10 turret. Various models of Sherman were updated, including M4A1s and M4A2s. M4A2s with the turret were used by the Egyptian army in the Six-Day War. Mid-1950s, limited production.
Light Tank M24 with FL-10: A project to modernize M24s in France’s inventory by replacing the standard turret with the 75mm armed FL-10 of the AMX-13. 1956, no serial production

United States of America

Gonsior, Opp, and Frank War Automobile: A joint armored car project designed by Joseph Gonsior, Friedrich Opp, and William Frank. A joint project between the USA and Austro-Hungary from 1916, it had a machine gun in an oscillating turret. The elevation/depression was controlled via hand-cranks. Never left blueprint stages. 1916, no serial production.
76mm Gun Tank T71: A light tank design by two competitors. These were Detroit Arsenal (DA) and Cadillac Motor Car Division (CMCD). DA’s design utilised an oscillating turret and autoloader feeding a 76mm gun. The vehicle was never built and never left blueprint stages. Early-1950s, no serial production
90mm Gun Tank T69: Medium Tank prototype with an oscillating turret mounted on the hull of the failed T42 medium tank project. The turret contained an 8-shot cylinder, not unlike a giant version of one you would find on a handgun. Only one was ever built as the turret was not thought to provide “any real advantage” over the traditional type. Mid-1950s, no serial production.
105mm Gun Tank T54E1: Medium tank prototype produced for series of trials to find the best way to mount a 105mm gun on the hull of the M48 Patton III. An autoloader system was also utilised inside the turret. Mid-1950s, no serial production.
155mm Gun Tank T58: A heavy tank design utilising an oscillating turret with autoloader, mounted on the hull of the T43/M103 hull. Had the tank left the drawing board, it would’ve been armed with a 155mm gun, the largest gun to be mounted in an oscillating turret. Mid-1950s, no serial production.
120mm Gun Tank T57: A heavy tank design similar to the T58 but armed instead with a 120mm gun. Mid-1950s, no serial production.
120mm Gun Tank T77: A heavy tank project to mounting the T57’s turret on the hull of the M48 Patton III. Mid-1950s, no serial production.
M1128 Mobile Gun System: The latest American vehicle to use this turret type. It consists of an unmanned, remote turret on the hull of the Stryker ICV (Infantry Combat Vehicle). The vehicle is armed with a 105mm M68A2 rifled gun, and is fed by an 8-round autoloader. 2013, currently serving.

Austria

SK-105 Kürassier: Austrian light tank. The hull was an indigenous design, but it utilized the turret of the AMX-13 bought from France. They were armed with 105mm guns. Early 1970s, in service with Austria until the 1990s, remains in service countries such as Argentina and Botswana.

Sweden

EMIL Project: A series of heavy tank designs with heavily armored oscillating turrets. They were designed with autoloaders and guns from 105mm to 150mm. Two chassis, codenamed “Kranvagn” (English: Crane vehicle) were constructed before the project’s cancellation. Early 1950s, no serial production.
Strv m/42-57 Alt. A.2.
In an effort to up-gun their already vastly outdated Stridsvagn m/42. A meeting was held on February 15th, 1952 on possible improvements. One solution was to mount a new oscillating turret design on to the m/42’s hull. This idea never came to fruition, however.

Germany

Flakpanzer IV Kugelblitz: Anti-aircraft tank built on the chassis of the Panzer IV. The tank was named after its turret, the name meaning “Ball Lightning”. It was armed with two 30mm MK 103 auto-cannons. 1943, no serial production.
DF 105 Combat Tank: A cooperative project between France and Germany combining the Marder I chassis with an updated AMX-13 turret with a 105 mm main gun. It was called the DF 105 Combat Tank. Early-mid 1980s, not serialized. Mid-1980s, no serial production.
CLOVIS, FL-20, 105mm: A follow up project of the DF 105. The Marder chassis remained the basis, but a completely new oscillating turret was added. It was possibly one of the last turrets of the type to be developed. 1985, no serial production.

Great Britain

COBRA: A design for a 30-ton tank to carrying a 120mm gun. It was extremely lightweight for a tank with such a gun, but retained excellent armor protection over the entire frontal arc. Side and rear armor were sacrificed, however. 1954, no serial production.

Italy

AMX-13/60: An update program that replaced the existing gun of the French Light Tanks with a high-velocity 60mm gun.

Links, Resources & Further Reading

www.chars-francais.net
www.armchairgeneral.com
Panzer Tracts issue 12–1: Flakpanzerkampfwagen IV and other Flakpanzer projects development and production from 1942 to 1945, Thomas Jentz & Hilary L. Doyle.
Presidio Press, Patton: A History of the American Main Battle Tank, Volume 1, R. P. Hunnicutt
Presidio Press, Firepower: A History of the American Heavy Tank, R. P. Hunnicutt
Rock Publications, the AMX-13 Light Tank. Volume 2: Turret, Peter Lau
The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK
The National Armor and Cavalry Museum (NACM), USA
Musée des Blindés, Saumur, France

Categories
AT weapons WWI German AT Guns

Mauser Tankgewehr M1918

German Empire (1918)
Anti-Tank Rifle – about 16,000 produced

In September 1916, the British unveiled their new weapon to the world – The Tank – which, while slow and mechanically unreliable, sent shockwaves through the ranks of the German military.
The first solution saw the Spitzgeschoss mit Kern, more commonly called the K Bullet, being issued in larger quantities. Originally, these steel core armored piercing bullets had been issued so that frontline units could tackle enemy pillboxes and armored bullet shields, but now they were turned against the British and French metal beasts that now stormed towards their trenches.
There is also debate in regards to the use of reverse bullets. As the name states, the bullet was in the casing backwards. This allowed a little more propellant and the theory was the blunt end wouldn’t break apart against the tank’s armor but cause it to distort and send spalling into the compartment. They weren’t always effective, could damage the rifle and once the British started upgrading, the bullet became useless.

The move towards anti-tank weapons

The Battles of Messines and Cambrai in 1917 saw mass deployments of the British Mark IV tank, which had improved armor protection over the Mk I. It soon became apparent that the K bullet was no longer effective in combating the armored fist of the Allies. Tanks were also not the only problem but the advancement of the airplane, from simple reconnaissance aircraft to better fighters and bombers, meant that there was a need for a large calibre weapon to deal with both.
In October 1917, the German Gewehr-Prüfungskommission (Rifle Testing Commission or G.P.K.) issued a directive to develop a machine gun chambered with a large calibre cartridge able to combat both tanks and aircraft. However, it would take a long time to develop both a suitable cartridge and a working machine gun. So, a suggestion was made to develop a rifle to help test the new ammunition as a stop-gap measure, which the Commission accepted. They then approached the Mauser company in November 1917 to develop such a rifle. At first, Mauser was having trouble deciding between a range of calibres from 13mm to 15mm. The decision was soon made for them by the Polte ammunition factory in Magdeburg. Polte had developed a 13.2mm hardened steel core round. The total length for this cartridge was 92mm and the case was semi-rimmed.
null
Size comparison between the standard British .303 round (left) with the 13.2mm Tank und Flieger used in the Tankgewehr. Source: National Library of Scotland
To assist Mauser, a design officer was set up in Oberndorf am Neckar, and together they worked on developing the rifle which would become known as the Tankgewehr M1918.

Development

At this stage in the war, Germany was under increased economic strain and, as such, resources were rationed. To help give the project some speed, the German General Staff gave it the same resource priority rating as submarines. The decision was made to essentially upscale a Mauser 98 and, by January 1918, the first prototype was produced. On the 10th of May 1918, the gun was ready for full production. So, in only seven months a complete development project had taken place for not only a new type of firearm, but for the ammunition as well. By the end of the war, the Oberndorf am Neckar factory was producing 300 rifles per day and a total of about 16,000 were produced.
null
Example of the Tankgewehr with bolt closed (above) and open (below), using the more commonly issued MG 08/15 bipod. Source: defencehorizon
As mentioned earlier, the Tankgewehr was essentially an upscaled Mauser Gewehr 98. However, there were some differences between this and the Gewehr 98. The first was that the stock was two piece rather than one piece. This was due to the manufacturing process but there are rare examples of one piece stocks. The second is the pistol grip. Because the weapon was so large, it would be not only uncomfortable but also impractical to have the user hold the gun in a traditional rifle style. The other differences are not so apparent. For example, the bolt, while being the standard Mauser action, was more akin to the Gewehr 88 rather than the 98 version. Also, because of the immense 13.2mm cartridge, the bolt required some additional safety features. It had three gas relief ports at the front of the bolt, as well as a reinforced cup area at the back of the bolt. This was intended to vent any high pressure gas away from the user in the event of a cartridge rupture or detonation. The bolt also featured four locking lugs, two at the rear and two at the front, instead of the traditional Mauser two at the front and one at the rear set up. The sight was scaled from 100 metres to 500 metres in 100 metres increments instead of the Gewehr 98’s 200 metres to 2,000 metres. This indicates the effective range against armored vehicles.
The first 300 or so models had a shorter but thicker 86.1 cm long barrel, weighing in at 16.6 kg unloaded and without bipod. These first 300 rifles also used standard Gewehr 98 2,000 meter sight and were known as ‘Kurz’. The rest of the models had a longer, but lighter 96 cm long barrel and the relatively light weight of 15.7 kg unloaded and without bipod.
Originally, the bipod was just the MG 08/15 bipod. This was made from bent sheet metal but this was found to be inadequate to the task and so a specially designed welded tube steel angled bipod was created. This meant that instead of having the gun sink into the mud and needing to be reset after each shot, it could fire a couple of rounds before needing to be realigned. The advantage to having the same mounting plate as the MG08/15 was it could essentially go wherever the MG went.
The overall development and setup cost was around ℳ700,000 Marks and each individual rifle cost ℳ1,000 Marks to produce.
null
A Tankgewehr mounted on an MG08/15 cart being looked on by Canadian soldiers during the advance East of Arras. September 1918. Source: Canadian Archives
null
Arras, September 1918 – Captured Guns. You can see a couple T-Gewehrs propped up Source: Canadian Archives
null
Amiens August 1918 – Canadian troops examine captured rifle. Source Canadian national archives

TankGewehr1918
Tank Gewehr 1918 Illustration by Tanks Encyclopedia’s David Bocquelet

Active Service

The guns were issued at a rate of 2 or 3 per Regiment and the first ones were assigned to the areas most likely to face tanks (thanks to reconnaissance or intelligence). A special anti-tank group was created and attached to the Regimental HQ. Each gun would be crewed by two men, the gunner and the loader/spotter. Together, they would typically carry 132 rounds split between three 20 round leather bags and a 72 round box. These men were chosen for their bravery as well as their stature, to allow for more effective use of the weapon. When a tank attack was in progress, the 2 or 3 guns would then be sent to the main line of resistance and wait until the tank was within 300 metres or so to engage.
The Tankgewehr was not a one-shot kill weapon but was meant to be used in conjunction with other Tankgewehrs, as well as machine guns and riflemen using K-bullets. The Tankgewehr operators were taught to fire at the areas of the tank that contained either crew members or vital equipment like the fuel tank or engine. The German General Staff published a 3 page illustrated leaflet based upon several tests they conducted titled, “Merkblatt für Tankbekämpfung : (Kleiner englischer Tank)”. In it, it advised that the Tankgewehr guns fire at the machine gunners, drivers or fuel tank placements in order to render the tank inoperable and defenseless to grenade-wielding anti-tank teams.
However, the Tankgewehr didn’t need to penetrate in order to achieve its goal. Tanks of 1918 were built from riveted armored plates and hitting them with enough force could cause buckling, rivets to pop, as well as spalling. These things could cause damage to components and crew members alike and force the tank to stop or at least slow down, making it easier to be targeted by more powerful weapons.

A splatter mask issued to tank crews to help minimise damage from spalling and shrapnel. Source: Royal Armoury Museum, Leeds
The weapon was also installed in a handful of captured Mark IV Female tanks. To give the tank more hitting power against other tanks, BAKP 20 worked out a method to mount the Tankgewher in either the sponsons or bow MG mounts. An unknown number were issued in late Autumn 1918.
null
This photo was taken at B.A.K.P.20 and shows the installation of a T-Gewehr in the ball mount of the bow machine gun of a Mark IV tank. The installation was held in place by large springs and could easily and quickly be removed to enable a Lewis gun to be remounted to attack infantry targets rather than enemy tanks. Source: Rainer Strasheim Collection Tankograd Beute-tanks
When the war was over, the Treaty of Versailles forbid Germany from owning the rifle. This saw thousands destroyed but many thousands were sent to various nations as part of reparations (for example, the Belgians received a few thousand). The Republic of China purchased several from FN Herstal as T18, these were used during the Warlord time and so even appeared during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Many nations sent the Tankgewehr to their research and development departments and soon other Anti-Tank rifles started to appear in the 1920’s that looked similar to the Tankgewehr. A very good example is the Swedish Pansarvärnsgevär m/21 and the Polish Karabin przeciwpancerny wzór 35 is a prime example of this copying.

Performance

The Tankgewehr wasn’t the first use of large calibre rifles on the Battlefields of World War One, as many nations put civilian produced ‘Elephant guns’ on the front lines to help combat sniper shields and pillboxes. It also wasn’t the first large calibre weapon deployed against tanks, as the Germans pushed trench mortars firing at a flat trajectory or field guns into an anti-tank role. But it was the first purpose-built large calibre weapon designed specifically to combat tanks.
The rifle fired an armor-piercing steel-cored bullet weighing 51.5 g at 780 m/s. This 13.2mm Tank und Flieger round could penetrate 15mm of armored plate at 300 metres. Also, even if it failed to penetrate, the impact could create spalling and damage inside the tank.
The Tankgewehr wasn’t a game changer on the battlefield but it did have an impact on a tactical level. There were several after action reports that credit the Tankgewehr with injuring or killing crew members and making the tank combat ineffective. It allowed the Germans to create Anti-Tank groups that could work together and thus help stall an enemy advance.
While the Tankgewehr was deployed on the frontlines and was the first Anti-Tank Rifle, we need to remember that it was a stop-gap measure until the MG 18 TuF was in full production. It also had a few downsides, like the lack of any recoil management, the unpadded stock and lack of a muzzle break meant the full force of every shot went through the user. This lead to a joke that you could fire the Tankgewehr twice per man, one for each shoulder. The reality was that users complained of headaches, temporary deafness, nausea, stiff neck and bruising/dislocated shoulders. Also, the single shot system meant that it had a slow rate of fire, put at around 10 rpm for a well trained crew.
Despite everything, it was a pioneer in a new form a warfare that arose out of the muddy trenches of the Western Front and would go on to inspire many other similar designs that can be still seen today in our Anti-Material rifles.
null
Tankgewehr M1918 with the purpose built bipod. Source: Imperial War Museum

Specifications

– Caliber: 13.2mm
– Barrel length: 960mm
– Overall length: 16910 mm
– Weight in firing position: 18.5 kg (with the purpose built Tankgewehr bipod)
– Height when in firing position: 260 mm
– Width: 80 mm
– Practical ROF: 10 r.p.m.
– Muzzle velocity: 780 m/s
– Max. Range: 500 m
– Practical range: 300 m

Links, Resources & Further Reading

“Im Zeichen des „Tankdrachen“. Die Kriegführung an der Westfront 1916-1918 im Spannungsverhältnis zwischen Einsatz eines neuartigen Kriegsmittels der Alliierten und deutschen Bemühungen um seine Bekämpfung”
by Alexander Fasse
Iron Fist: Classic Armoured Warfare Case Studies by Bryan Perrett
On royalarmouries.org
null
Comparison between the Tankgewehr (left) and the British standard firearm, the SMLE. Source: National Library of Scotland

Categories
AT weapons WW2 German AT Weapons

7.5 cm PaK 40

Germany (1942-45)
Standard AT gun – Approx. 20,000 built

Backbone of the German Anti-Tank Corps

The Wehrmacht was always trying to stay ahead of the arms race that had developed in the 1930s. Whilst the 3.7cm Pak 36 anti-tank gun had acquitted itself very well during the Spanish Civil War, it was thought that an upgraded version was needed in order to stay ahead of the gun-armor spiral. Rheinmetall-Borsig AG was asked to improve upon their original design. What they came up with was the 5cm Pak 38 with a L/60 barrel (a barrel 60 calibers in length), which met approval for production in 1939. However, soon after the factories geared up for production, the German military became aware of newer tank designs by the Soviets (thanks in part to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact) and therefore ordered an upgunning of the Pak 38.

The Design

Originally, Rheinmetall wanted to just change the barrel of the previous Pak 38 but, because the Luftwaffe was given priority for lightweight alloys, the design also needed to be changed. As a result, a new carriage was developed using all steel construction.The gun’s traditional split trail was supported by torsion springs and, like the Pak 38, a third wheel could be attached to the trail spades for easier manhandling. For ease of production and economic use of resources, the curved gun shield of the Pak 38 was dropped and replaced with a more angular twin plate shield.
The gun was equipped with a L/46 barrel with a larger double-baffled muzzle brake. The gun mechanism was of the ‘horizontal sliding breech block semi-automatic variety’” which allowed for a more rapid rate of fire, as the previous shell was expanded and the breach was left open for the next shot. Because of the weight and size, the gun was seen as a motorized piece and was equipped with solid rubber tires which allowed it to take the harsh punishment of the frontlines. If the need arose, it could be used in an indirect fire role.


Photos: Wikimedia Commons
The above pictures are of a horizontal sliding semi-automatic breech block. The operating handle is pulled to the opening position, this pushed the block to the side (to the right in the case of the PaK 40) and then a shell is pushed into the breach. The operating handle is then pushed to close the breach and make the gun ready to fire. The layer of the gun would then press the trigger on his elevating handwheel triggering the gun. The recoil would then reopen and eject the spent shell casing and recock the mechanism. This then allows for a new shell to be pushed into the breach, which would then close automatically without the need to touch the operating handle.
The sights were the standard ZF 3 x 8 (3 x magnification, 8-degree field of view) that equipped Anti-Tank (AT) guns of the German military, but it was an improvement over the earlier ZF 3 x 8’s (as used on Pak 38’s) in that it had an upgraded reticule which allowed for better leading of targets, and better degrees of accuracy.
Overall, the cost was 12,000 Reichmarks (RM) per unit (approximately $48,940 in 2017), which was a significant leap over the 8,000 RM (approximately $32,625 in 2017) of the Pak 38. It also required 2200 man hours and 6 months production time per unit.

On the Frontlines

Originally, the Pak 36 and 38 were performing adequately enough that the Pak 40 project was not seen as a necessity. However, once Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union) began and the German military encountered the heavily armored KV-1 and steeply angular T-34, the Pak 38 struggled to penetrate except at point blank ranges. The Pak 40 was speedily pushed into high gear and the first pre-production models were ready in November 1941. These initial models proved their worth on the Eastern Front and approval was given for production. By the end of 1942, over 1,300 Pak 40s were on the frontlines. It was decided in 1943 to make it the standard AT gun in German service. It was so successful that by the end of the war about 23,000 had been produced and supplied to over 9 countries.

PaK 40 and crew in action in France, 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv
The vast majority of PaK 40’s (about 20,000) served within the German military. It saw action first on the Eastern Front, where its high-velocity armor-piercing shells easily penetrated most Soviet armor encountered. By the beginning of 1943, the PaK 40 had become the core of the Wehrmacht anti-tank arm. It saw service on all fronts that Germany was fighting, from North Africa and Italy, from France to the Eastern Front.
Finland received 210 PaK 40’s in 1943-1944. They were used to replace the existing obsolete AT guns in their inventory (like the 37mm Bofors) and were assigned at a divisional level. It was put to effective use on the Karelian Isthmus during the Soviet Summer Offensive of 1944, where it could be dug in and ranged to previously designated killing zones. The Finnish military kept the gun in service until 1986.

Finnish PaK 40 on the Summa front, 1944. Photo: SA Kuva
Other German allies such as Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary also received small numbers of the Pak 40 guns but these were of limited use as the tides of war had turned against them and they soon found themselves surrendering before they could press any numbers of the gun into service.
The Soviet Red Army was also impressed by the performance of the PaK 40 and would often put captured versions directly into service.
In 1955 the USSR sent a small number of captured PaK 40s to North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese Army used them in a coastal defense role at the Red River Corridor until they were retired in 1972.

Specifications:

– Caliber: 75 mm
– Barrel length: L/46 or 3.45 m
– Rifling: 32 grooves, right-hand increasing twist, 1/24 to 1/18.
– Weight in firing position: 1,425 kilograms (the US M5 was 2,210kg, the British 17 pounder was 3,034kg and the Soviet ZiS-3 was 1,116kg)
– Height: 1.25 metres (the US M5 was 1.62m, the British 17 pounder was 1.6m and the Soviet ZiS-3 was 1.37m)
– Length with the carriage: 6.2 metres
– Length: 3.70 metres
– Width: 2.0 metres
– Traverse: 65°
– Elevation: -5° to + 22°
– Max, ROF: 14 r.p.m.
– Effective firing range: 1.8 km
– Maximum indirect firing range: 7.678 km (HE shell)

Penetration Figures

Heereswaffenamt documents give the following statistics for the penetration values of the PaK 40 (all against 60-degree angle):-

Pzgr. 39

– 100 metres = 99mm
– 500 metres = 91mm
– 1000 metres = 81mm

Pzgr. 40

– 100 metres = 126mm
– 500 metres = 108mm
– 1000 metres = 87mm


The standard 7.5 cm PaK 40 on its towed mount.

7.5cm PaK 40 auf Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO)

The Sdkfz. 234/4 “PaK-wagon” mounting the 7.5 cm PaK.

The Sd.Kfz.251/22 7.5cm PaK 40 L/46 auf Mittlerer Schützenpanzerwagen.
These illustrations are by Tank Encylopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Performance

The PaK 40 remained relevant until the end of the war, being able to pierce the armor of almost any Allied tank. Its standard ammunition was the Panzergranate 39 (PzGr. 39) Armored Piercing, Capped, Ballistic Cap (APCBC) which fired at a velocity of 790 m/s, and was capable of penetrating the armor of the Soviet KV-1 tank at 500 meters. It also had the Panzergranate 40 (PzGr. 40) Armor Piercing, Composite Rigid (APCR) shell which had a tungsten core with a muzzle velocity of 990 m/s but these became more scarce as the sources of tungsten dried up.
The gun would be crewed by 5 men, but if the situation required, the entire gun could be operated by just a single soldier. The rate of fire by a trained crew was 14 rounds per minute but on average the rate of fire was a respectable 11 rpm. Each gun would form one part of a platoon (3 guns) which in turn would form one part of a battery (3 platoons). These would be motorized, towed by Sd.Kfz.7, 8 or 11’s, and supported by a signals and HQ platoons, and would be assigned at a divisional level for command and control. The normal distribution would see each platoon being attached to one of the division’s three infantry regiments.

Dug-in and camouflaged PaK 40 with a full crew in Italy 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv
The introduction of the PaK 40 meant that the tactics of the Panzerjäger needed to be changed. Originally, the small size and mobility of the anti-tank guns allowed them to be near the front lines and their small size and lower silhouette meant they were easier to camouflage and harder to spot. The PaK 40’s 1.25 metre height made it harder to conceal and the heavyweight meant that moving it without the aid of a vehicle was laborious and slow. This forced the PaK 40 to be deployed further away from the front lines and thus be less effective in a defensive role, and it also meant it was more at risk of flanking once an enemy force broke through as it would be unsupported.
Despite all the advantages of the PaK 40, one of the biggest disadvantages was its weight, weighing in at 1,425 kilograms. This made any kind of manhandling impossible and the net result of this was many guns and crews were lost as the enemy advanced, for example, the Finns had lost 60 of their 210 guns by the end of the Soviet Summer offensive of 1944. This meant that each gun had to carefully put into position, dug in and then supported by infantry and have its tractors nearby so a quick getaway could follow if and when needed.
It remained, though, at the forefront of German defense as the Allies swept into Germany. Its lower profile in comparison to its contemporaries, coupled with the advantages of the defender, allowed it to cause many casualties amongst the armored corps of the advancing Allied forces.

The Spin-Offs

The PaK 40 was seen as such a success that it saw itself turned into a tank gun, both in an unmodified and modified form. The modified form was given the designation 7.5 cm KwK 40 (7.5cm Kampfwagenkanone 40) or 7.5cm StuK 40 (7.5cm Sturmkanone 40) depending on if it was mounted into a tank or an assault gun respectively. The modification also saw its barrel length either cut down to 43 calibers or lengthened to 48 calibers.The L43 version was put into the first 120 Sturmgeschütz III Ausf.F as well as the Panzer IV from the Ausf.F2 to the first 1,200 models of the Ausf. G. The L48 version was then used on all the remaining StuG III’s, as well as all the StuG IVs. It also equipped all remaining later variants of the Panzer IV.

A Panzer IV Ausf. J of 12th SS Panzer Division “Hitlerjugend” in Belgium 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv
It was also used in a slightly modified form on the Marder series of tank hunters. These were a solution to the issues of mobility and anti-tank performance currently lacking in the Wehrmacht. The Marder I used the captured French Lorraine 37L tractor, the Marder II used the obsolete Panzer II chassis and the Marder III was based upon the Czech Panzer 38(t). All these designs were very simple conversions to make, essentially placing the Pak 40 onto the chassis and building the fighting compartment around it. Some modification occurred, as in the PaK 40 armed Marder II’s that had a modified shield. The increased mobility allowed the Marders to keep up with Panzer units or be rushed from reserve to where they were needed. Despite having flaws, like a cramped fighting compartment, high silhouette, and limited gun traverse, these interim tank destroyers performed very well against their opponents.
During the later stages of the war, many experimental or ad-hoc anti-tank designs were produced. One of the more ‘standard’ designs was the 7.5cm PaK 40 L/46 auf Mittlerer Schützenpanzerwagen. This took the Sd.Kfz.251 half-track and bolted the PaK 40 to the top of it. In this configuration, it could take 22 rounds and gave some much needed anti-tank capability to divisional reconnaissance units. Despite being favored by those at the top (Hitler gave his approval and priority for the design in late 1944), it did suffer from being now too heavy and that the recoil of the gun was too powerful for the chassis. This meant that whilst it could sit in prearranged positions, take a shot and scoot, it was also susceptible to mechanical failure caused by the firing.
Probably the strangest use of the PaK 40 was the 7.5cm Pak 40 auf Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO). This strange little vehicle highlighted the desperate need by the German High Command for mobile anti-tank guns. The RSO was occasionally used as a prime mover for the PaK 40 and experiments were conducted to house the PaK within the vehicle itself and unload it to a position but this idea was soon scrapped due to various issues. In 1943, it was considered making a permanent fixture of the PaK 40 on a 360-degree mount and, coupled with the cross-country performance of the tractor, this made for a mobile and hard-hitting AT platform. It did see deployment on the Eastern Front in early 1944 but it did not garner a great reputation and earned the nickname of “Rollender Sarg Ost”, a play on the RSO abbreviation. It translates to “rolling coffin east”.
As mention in a previous section, Hungary was one of the countries to acquire the gun. Hungary bought the production license of the PaK 40, who would have produced the gun under the name of ‘7,5 cm 40 M. páncéltörő ágyú’. Only a handful of prototypes were manufactured before the end of the Second World War, however. Two of these were used as the main armaments of the 43M. Turán III medium tank and 44M. Zrínyi I assault gun prototypes.

Armored Vehicles Equipped With the PaK 40

7.5cm PaK 40 auf Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO)
– 7.5cm PaK 40 L/46 auf Mittlerer Schützenpanzerwagen
– 7.5cm PaK 40 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen FCM (f)
_ 7.5cm PaK 40/1 (Sf) auf Geschutzwagen 39H (f)
Jagdpanzer IV
Marder I auf Geschutzwagen Lorraine Schlepper (f)
Marder II Sd.Kfz.131
– Marder III Sd.Kfz. 138
Panzerkampfwagen IV (Ausf. F2 onwards)
Sd.Kfz.234/4
Sturmgeschütz III (Ausf. F onwards)
Sturmgeschütz IV

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Panzerjäger vs KV-1 Eastern Front 1941-43 by Robert Forczyk: Osprey Publishing
Volume 1 Number 11 Intelligence Bulletin July 1943 Military Intelligence Service War Department Section V pg 38- 41
German Artillery at War 1939-45 Volume 1 by Frank De Sisto: Concord Publications
Panzerjäger German Anti-Tank Battalions of World War II by W. Davis: Almark Publishing Co. Ltd.
On Jaegerplatoon.net
On Panzerworld.comOn wwiiafterwwii

Categories
German tactics Soviet tactics

The Soviet 21st Tank Brigade’s Assault On Kalinin

October 17th to October 20th, 1941

The Brigade of Heroes

One of the most discussed counterattacks ever conducted by the Red Army, the 21st Tank Brigade’s assault on the City of Kalinin (the modern day city of Tver, [Russia]), has gone down in Russian history as one of the defining moments of the ‘Great Patriotic War’.
However, even Russian sources fail to truly capture the scope of the battle, and the bravery of the men who conducted themselves in battle against a numerically superior German fighting force.
On the 17th of October 1941, the 21st Tank Brigade, unsupported by other units, air power or even artillery, succeeded in quickly advancing to the city of Kalinin and nearly captured the city. However, the unit suffered a tremendous loss of life, including two men who had previously been awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union distinction for their actions.

The greater Battle for Moscow

On the 22nd of June 1941, the Wehrmacht, along with their allies, invaded the USSR in Operation Barbarossa. From June to October, the Wehrmacht had advanced almost 1000 kilometers and destroyed nearly 15,000 tanks of the Red Army. Not only this, they had killed or captured nearly 3,000,000 Red Army soldiers and overrun the Soviet heartlands of Belarus, Ukraine and most of eastern Russia.
Operation Barbarossa was the German codename for the invasion of the USSR and, on the 2nd of October 1941, after the destruction of the Smolensk pocket, the order was given by Hitler to begin Operation Typhoon.
Operation Typhoon was the advance to Moscow. Early victories included the encirclement at Vyazma and the capture of Orel and Bryansk. These victories were swift and left open the road to Moscow.
The next major city the Germans had to take was Kalinin. This lay to the north-west of Moscow and was only 170 kilometers away from the capital. The city was taken with little resistance on October 13th/14th 1941.
The capture of the city left the highway to Moscow dangerously exposed. It was therefore decided by the Soviet High Command that the city should be re-taken.

Kalinin

Kalinin has been an important town since the 1300s and is the capital for the Kalinin Oblast. Originally called Novgorodian, it was named Tver in the 1300s. It was then renamed Kalinin in 1931 to honor communist party member Mikhail Kalinin. In 1991, the city was renamed Tver.

An annotated German aerial map of Kalinin. 1 is the eastern airfield, 2 is the western airfield, 3 is Kalinin station, 4 is the entrance to the Volokolamansk Highway, and 5 is the Turginovskoye highway. Source: Warfly.ru
The geography of the city is divided up by three rivers. The Volga river flows from west to east, with the majority of the city on the southern bank of the river. The Tversta river then splits the northern bank into two quarters. On the south bank the Tmaka river splits the southern bank into unequal quarters.
The city centre is made up of historical palaces and other typical Russian brick buildings of the 1700s, with the rest of the city being made up of wooden buildings and small to medium brick buildings, which is very typical of Russian towns and cities.

A typical building in central Kalinin. This photograph was taken after the assault on the city. Source: From the author’s collection
The city had two airfields. One aerodrome (an airfield without a runway allowing planes to take off from any direction) lay on the south eastern corner of the city. The second airfield with a concrete runway was situated to the north west of the city.

A typical outer Kalinin street. This photograph was likely taken to the north west, near the airfield. This photograph was taken in December, after the assault on Kalinin. Source: From the author’s collection

Prelude to Battle

On the 12th of October 1941, the 21 Tank Brigade was ordered to defend the city of Kalinin.
The commander of the brigade was Colonel Nikolai Stepanovich Skvortsov, and the deputy commander was Alexander Sergeevich Sergeyev. The brigade was formed from the Military school at Vladimir, situated to the east of Moscow.
The Brigade received tanks on the 5th of October, and was issued fresh T-34 tanks delivered from Factory 183 (KhPZ: Kharkov Locomotive and Tractor Works) and from Factory 112 (Krasnoye Sormovo). The brigade was listed as fielding 10 x T-34 tanks equipped with 76mm guns (delivered from Kharkov), 7 x T-34s with 76mm guns (delivered from Krasnoye Sormovo), 10 x T-34s equipped with the ZiS-4 57mm gun (also from Kharkov), two additional T-34s with 76mm guns equipped with flame throwers in the hull (also from Kharkov), 2 x HT-26s, 5 x BT-2 Tanks, 15 x BT-5s and BT-7s, 10 x T-60s, and 4 x ZiS-30 tank destroyers.
It should be noted that tanks from Krasnoye Sormovo (112) are only listed by one source, however, this source (https://tankfront.ru/ussr/tbr/tbr021.html) is by far the most detailed with their breakdown of the 21st Tank Brigade.
The 21st Tank Brigade was organised into three battalions, which primarily consisted of the 21st Tank Regiment, along with some other units. The first battalion comprised all of the T-34s that were issued to the unit. The second battalion was issued the light tanks, including the ZiS-30s. The unit is thought to have been the first to receive the T-60 tank from factory No.37.
A third battalion was a Motorized Rifle Battalion. This unit is thought to have been made up of 700 men, with an Anti-Tank company, an 82mm mortar company (12 mortars), along with a submachine gun platoon, sapper platoon, and the commander’s platoon.
The unit was unique amongst the Red Army by being mostly made up of veterans. Due to the unit being put together from the Tank School in Vladimir, experienced tank men were therefore available. Unfortunately, due to the severe losses earlier in the war, many more veterans had been killed in action. The tank commanders were generally experienced tankers who had fought in conflicts such as the 1939 Khalkhin-Gol battles, the Winter War, and the early stages of the ‘Great Patriotic War’ (WWII).

Planning

The order to attack was given to the 21st Tank Brigade from Lieutenant General Rokossovsky. His order read: “Immediately move to the offensive in the direction of Pushkino, Ivantsevo, Kalinin with the aim of blowing the flank and rear of the enemy to assist our troops in the destruction of the Kalinin group of troops.”
This was reinforced by orders from General K. Zhukov: “… to take possession of Turginovo, in the future the combined detachment to advance in the direction of Ilinskoe, Tsvetkovo, Negotino with the task of destroying the enemy grouping in the Kalinin region.”
This assault on Kalinin was unsupported by other units or aircraft, and the entire task of liberating the city was put onto the shoulders of the 21st Tank Brigade. This was an impossible task, and the order was given because the Soviet High Command had little actual knowledge of the full strength of the German forces at Kalinin and thought that the bulk of German forces in the area were further north.
The 21st Tank Brigade was made up of three battalions; however, the first two were re-organized into three fighting groups for the assault on Kalinin. The first group was commanded by Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov, the second group by Mikhail Alekseevich Lukin, and the third group by Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky.

Group 1

The first group was commanded by Captain Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov. Agibalov was an experienced soldier, and had risen through the ranks of the Red Army after joining in 1932. His combat experience included the war with Japan in 1939, and the Winter War with Finland in 1939. For his service in the Khalkhin-Gol battles, he was awarded the Order of Lenin (the USSR’s highest award), and was also awarded the title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’.

Captain Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov in 1940. Source: warheroes.ru
The assault of Kalinin was devised as a two-pronged assault. From the staging area at Turginovo, group one and group two would move west to capture Pushkino, then move north along the Volokolamansk highway to enter Kalinin on the eastern side of the city, and attack the airfield and the main station.
This would also involve the destruction of the forward command post of German forces in the area stationed at Pushkino. Once at Kalinin, the groups would split, with the first attacking the airfield, then moving into the city to help with its liberation. The second group was to move into the city centre and capture the station, them move into central city up to the Tver river.
The tanks of the first group were painted with white numbers on their hulls to help with friendly tank identification. Numbers 1, 3, 4 and 6 have been found, with M.P. Agibalov’s tank being number “1”.

Group 2

The second group was commanded by Major Mikhail Alekseevich Lukin. Lukin, just like Agibalov, was a veteran soldier. During the Khalkhin-Gol battles, he successfully led a raid that resulted in a large Japanese supply dump being totally destroyed, along with a large number of trucks and vehicles. He was also awarded the title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ and the Order of Lenin.

Major Mikhail Alekseevich Lukin in 1940. Source: warheroes.ru
Lukin was made commander of the 21st Tank Regiment of the 21st Tank Brigade, and therefore was in overall control of the battle. The second group was to also advance for the Volokolamansk highway, but to enter the highway south of Pushkino at Panigino. Here it would advance north at speed, linking with group 1, and attack Kalinin.
Lukin commanded a T-34 with a ZiS-4 57mm gun. This machine was painted with a white number ‘20’ onto the hull sides of his machine. His second-in-command of the 2nd group was equipped with a T-34/76 with a white number ‘21’ painted onto the right hull side, right turret side, and on the rear of the turret. It is thought that there might have been tanks numbered 20 to 25 in this group.

Group 3

The third group was commanded by Senior Lieutenant Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky. Makovsky was as well decorated as his comrades. He had received the title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ and an Order of Lenin for his actions during the Winter War.

Senior Lieutenant Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky post war. Source: warheroes.ru
The third group was to move directly north along the Turginovskoye highway and enter the city at a similar location to the first and second groups, as the two main roads almost linked up at Kalinin.
The Turginovskoye highway entered Kalinin to the east of the airfield, and the third group could either go south of the field into the micro-district of Yuzhny, or move further north to enter the city north of the station. Here they would link up with the first and second groups to capture more key objectives in the city itself. The plan was made flexible to allow for different tanks to attack different areas if one group suffered heavy losses.
The third group appears to have not adopted the numbering system on their tanks. However, no definitive pictures have surfaced of their tanks, therefore it is possible that tanks numbering from ‘31’ exist. The third group was also called the ‘Makovsky Shock Group’.
There is also some photographic evidence that some tanks from all three groups were not painted with any numbers at all.

Support from the Motorised Battalion

While the main attack was happening, the third battalion was to advance up the Turginovskoye highway and assist in occupying the villages to the south of Kalinin. It is thought that they were originally going to enter the city after it was recaptured, however, the course of events meant that this never happened.
In total, 27 T-34s and 8 T-60 tanks were available for the battle. These tanks were divided into their respective groups and prepared for the attack. In theory, this could mean there were 9 T-34s per group, two groups equipping 3 T-60s with a third with 2 T-60s. It is unknown at present how many tanks were in each group.

The attack plan for the 21st Tank Brigade. The blue line is the path of the first group. The yellow line is the break off path of group 2 and the red line is the path of group 3. Source: Created by the author

German Forces

Facing the Soviets were elements of the 1st Panzer Division, which had been ordered to move north to help in the Leningrad sector; and the 36th Motorised Division, plus a mixture of other German units.
In Kalinin itself was the German 660th Assault Gun Battery, which was resting there. Roughly 10,000 troops were stationed in the newly captured city. It is known that a day prior, on the 16th of October, two Panzer Battalions were stationed in the city, however, the exact battalions are unknown.

A Sturmgeschütz III Ausf.C of the 660th Assault Gun Battery, likely on the streets of Kalinin. Source: Author’s collection.
The 660th Assault Gun Battery was formed before the Battle of France, and received their first six Sturmgeschutz III Ausf.As just before the invasion of France. It is thought that the 660th would go on to receive StuG III Ausf B’s and C’s in 1940 and 1941.
The 660th Assault Gun Battery is known to have fielded a number of Sd.Kfz 252’s, which were the ammunition carrier variant of the Sd.Kfz 250 half track. There was a handful of these machines used in Russia.

A StuG III Ausf A used by the 660th Assault Gun Battery.
The 36th Motorised Division is known to have deployed 105mm heavy guns in the village of Troyanovo, to the south of Kalinin, and the trucks carrying personnel engaged by the Soviets were also likely from this division.
This force of Germans was not prepared or expecting a Soviet counterattack so shortly after taking Kalinin. However, fortifications had been made to the train station, and the airfield at Kalinin was already requisitioned by the Luftwaffe, which had Ju-52 transport aircraft parked about the field.

A Ju-52 3M g4e German transport plane flies into the aerodrome at Kalinin. Ominously, the plane flies over a Soviet 57mm Gun, similar to those fielded in 10 T-34s by the 21st Tank Brigade. Source: Author’s private collection.
Unfortunately, the German records of the Soviet counterattack are lacking greatly, with only a small combat report from the 36th Motorised Division mentioning the attack. Therefore, the only documentation to refer is that of Soviet origin. The Soviet documentation seems to be largely accurate, albeit with some typical wartime embellishment.

T-34 Tanks of the 21st Tank Brigade

The 21st Tank Brigade was issued factory-fresh T-34 tanks from Kharkov, Krasnoye Sormovo, and T-60s from Factory Number 37. The T-34s were a diverse mix of machines. Tanks equipped with the 76.2mm guns were examples of the last production Factory 183 (KhPZ) tanks. Some machines were issued hardpoints for mounting external fuel tanks, although most were not.
All tanks were issued the newly-implemented driver’s hatch with two forward-facing periscopes protected by armored lids. The tow hooks were also the newly-implemented ‘hook’ type, dispensing with the older ‘pin’ type. The turrets issued to these tanks were a mixture of cast turrets and the ‘simplified 8-bolt type welded’ turrets.

One of the T-34s from the 21st Tank Brigade. ‘4’ was lost on the Volokolamansk highway near the airfield. Notice the V type track, the simplified turret, the updated driver’s hatch, and the new tow hooks. The hull sides do not have hard points for fuel tanks, and there is a single jack block on the rear hull side. Source: Old Ebay listing.
Tanks were issued with a mixture of track types. The standard 550mm wide track was common, although several tanks were issued with the ‘V type’ (alternatively known as ‘A type’) track. The commonly thought of as the ‘waffle’ patterned 500mm wide track had not yet been introduced.
Approximately ten T-34s were issued with ZiS-4 57mm guns. These specially designed anti-tank weapons were installed onto a standard T-34, and the only two known examples are known to not have had hardpoints for external fuel tanks.

A T-34 with a ZiS-4 57mm gun. This is the machine of Maj. Gen Lukin.

‘6’ of the 21st Tank Brigade.
Two such T-34s with 57mm guns that are known today were issued as tank number ‘20’, commanded by Lukin, and a second machine was commanded by Sergey Mikhailovich Kireev, who was in the first group. This tank is thought to have been painted with the number ‘2’, however, the damage is too severe to properly tell based on the known photographic evidence.

Prelude to Battle

The unit had received its tanks from Kharkov fully replenished with ammunition and fuel, and the brigade arrived at Kursky Station in Moscow on the 14th of October 1941. On the 13th of October 1941 the Brigade was attached to the 16th Army on the western front, and upon arrival to the front on the 17th of October, the brigade was reassigned to the 30th Army.
From Kursky the unit was ordered to move into Klin Station, and from here it was to move to Kalinin. However, the Brigade was forced to unload at Zavidovo and Reshetnikovo due to the capture of Kalinin station.
After unloading, the Tank Brigade moved towards the village of Turginovo, capturing the village with the loss of one tank due to an accident on crossing a pontoon bridge. The commander of this tank was Issac Okrane, and his crew was killed in the accident.

The advance north by group one and two

On the morning of the 17th of October 1941, the attack began. From the village of Turginovo, the first and second group advanced west then north. Group one moved to capture the village of Panigino. Here, the main highway from Volokolamansk to Kalinin lay ahead.
The attack was signaled by three red flares fired into the air, and immediately after beginning the assault, the Soviet tank crews of group two struck upon luck. A large column of German trucks and personnel carriers was advancing north towards Kalinin that had not noticed the Soviet tanks joining the rear of the column. Lukin ordered his unit to not open fire until they were discovered or until the time was right.
The same luck could not be said for the first group. The column of tanks advanced towards Pushkino, and were due to break through to the highway at the village of Emelyantsevo. At this village, they were spotted, and German anti-tank guns opened fire.
The lead tank of the advanced guard was commanded by Lieutenant Kireev (thought to be Sergey Mikhailovich Kireev), but his tank was hit and exploded, killing the crew. It is thought his tank was number ‘2’.

What is likely tank ‘2’ commanded by S.M. Kireev. Source: Author’s collection
The second tank in the forward column was tank ‘3’ commanded by S.Kh. Gorobets. This tank would later become very famous in this battle for ramming a Panzer III and escaping the battle unharmed. At this time though, it engaged and dealt with the Germans, leading the first group to the Volokolamansk highway and linking with group two.

The weather was varied, and it would appear that the snow thawed briefly for one or two days, likely the 18th and 19th of October, allowing for some snow free photographs. Here, what is believed to be ‘2’ of Kireev in the village of Emelyantsevo. Source: As taken from World War 2 Bodong Blog.
The next major village north was Pushkino. This was being temporarily used as a headquarters for local German forces. As the column passed through the village the order to attack was given, and the Soviet tanks swiftly gained the advantage, destroying many German vehicles and it is reported that many German soldiers were routed. The village was taken and the headquarters was destroyed. The groups advanced north, taking Kvakshino before hitting the village of Troyanovo.
By this time, the news had spread that the Soviets were advancing up the highway, and Ju-87 dive bombers were dispatched to engage the tanks. The column was attacked from the air, however reports conflict on whether any tanks were lost due to bombing.

A bomb left unexploded on the Volokolamansk Highway. Source: Author’s collection
Troyanovo was more heavily defended by the German forces, and the two groups faced a heavy wall of German anti-tank fire. It is known that 105mm guns of the 611 Heavy Artillery Platoon engaged the Soviet force here. In this village, the tank of Maj. M. Lukin became disabled. The reports are unclear on whether his vehicle simply broke down or was shot at. Whatever the case, the left track broke and the vehicle ended up in a ditch to the left of the road, stuck in the river Kamenka.

Lukin’s T-34 on the 18th of October 1941. Notice the broken left track links. Source: An old EBay listing
It was later claimed by his crew that Lukin single handily covered the escape of his crew, operating the 57mm gun of his tank to cover the withdrawal of his crew. He was killed in his tank and no damage is observable on the tank from photographic evidence other than the broken track.

Lukin’s T-34 a week or so after the assault. Snow has fallen again. Source: https://panzerserra.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/t-3457-tank-destroyer-case-report.html
The groups moved on towards Kalinin, now under the command of the leader of the first group, Captain Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov. The column broke through to the village of Naprudnoe, 16 kilometres from Kalinin. It was here that Agibalov was also killed.
The combat report tells a similar story to Lukin’s. Agibalov’s tank drove off the highway to the right. Here, he disabled a German fuel truck that blew up. His tank, now off the road and isolated, took heavy fire. The main gun of his tank was seen to have stopped firing, although the machine guns were still active. It is claimed that his crew bailed out and, to cover them, Agibalov stayed in the tank. The accounts of M.Ya. Maistrovsky claim that, after the machine gun fell silent, he was found in his tank with his pistol drawn, apparently having taken his own life.

Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov’s T-34 on the 17th of October 1941. The combat report clearly states the gun was hit, and it can be clearly seen that the gun mantlet has been dislodged. Notice the number 1 on the hull side and also that the Germans have already painted a captured tank number on the rear left side. Source: Author’s collection

Group one and two in Kalinin

Upon reaching Kalinin, the first and second groups attacked the Kalinin airfield and the train station, which was also being engaged by group three. The group that attacked the Kalinin Station was commanded by Senior Lieutenant Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky (deputy commander of the 21st Tank Brigade), who was in command of the third group, and received help from the remnants the other two groups.

An annotated map of the eastern approaches to Kalinin. Source: warfly.ru
The airfield is thought to have been attacked mainly by the first group. This group had a bit more success than the ones attacking the station. One tank commanded by Senior Political Instructor G. M. Gnyry drove up theVolokolamansk highway with the main group of tanks, he destroyed some vehicles on the highway. He then broke into the Kalinin airfield on the right of the Volokolamansk highway inside the city limits. Here, supported externally by other tanks, he successfully engaged enemy aircraft in the field, approximately 50 aircraft were parked there.
It is said that his tank was number ‘31’, however, this would have put him in group three (if the numbering system theory is correct). If this is correct, indeed, it was therefore likely his machine came from the south of the airfield and then entered to Volokolamansk highway.
One of the tanks supporting him was commanded by Sergeant S. E. Rybakov. His tank drove into the micro-district of Yuzhny (the modern name for this location) and supported Gnyry. This is the southern road that connects the two highways south of the airfield. He was surrounded and captured by enemy forces. He later escaped.
Gnyry was not as lucky. Some reports claim that his tank was lost when aircraft that had managed to escape from the field attacked his vehicle, although he could also have been attacked by German AA guns positioned about the airfield. His tank was disabled and he was forced to abandon it.
This airfield at Kalinin was attacked by tanks of the first group and the third group. The airfield was situated to the east of the city. A second airfield was situated to the west of the city. This airfield was not attacked.
At the eastern airfield, at least 16 aircraft are known to have been shot at or ran over by Gnyry.

One of the aircraft attacked by Gnyry. Source: https://warspot.ru/5942-kalininskiy-reyd-geroev-halhin-gola

The same Ju-52 as from above. The engines have been removed, likely as the machine was to be cannibalized after the damage it sustained from the T-34 of Gynry. Source: Author’s private collection.
While the T-34 tanks of the first group were attacking the airfield at Kalinin, the unit was unexpectedly engaged by German assault guns of the 660th Assault Gun Battery. During this engagement, Tank number ‘4’ engaged a Sturmgeschütz III Ausf A. The StuG III was commanded by Lieutenant Tachinsky, and the T-34 was thought to be commanded by Lieutenant D. G. Lutsenko. Lutsenko, after sustaining damage to the gun barrel, rammed at speed the StuG of Tachinsky. This caused the StuG to ride up, and sit on top of the T-34.

An aerial map showing the assumed direction of the 660th Assault Gun Battery’s counter-attack on the T-34s of the 21st Tank Brigade. Source: warfly.ru
The ramming took place on the Volokolamansk highway itself, and this allowed for the withdrawal of the remaining T-34s. After the T-34 rammed the StuG, the Soviet tanks apparently made their escape, although number ‘4’ stayed in its position with the crew refusing to escape the tank. The crew was forcibly removed from the tank by Germans using crowbars. Some sources claim the commander was shot, although there are no contemporary sources for this.

Tank number ‘4’ shortly after ramming the StuG III Ausf A. Source: https://www.militarymodelling.com/forums/postings.asp?th=97705

Lutsenko being dragged out of the turret of the tank. Source: https://www.militarymodelling.com/forums/postings.asp?th=97705

Tank number ‘4’ and the StuG about three days to a week after the incident. This particular incident was very popular to photograph. Source: Author’s Collection.

The location where tank number ‘4’ rammed the StuG. Identification was made to this location by the surrounding buildings after the tank was moved to the roadside. Source: Warfly.ru
Elements of the first group are known to have assisted in the attack the central position of Kalinin. This was commanded by Staff Sergeant Stepan Khristoforovich Gorobets who commanded the third tank in the first group. His tank was painted with a white number ‘3’, but because his tank was not knocked out and later photographed by the Germans, it is unknown if his tank was a ‘57mm’ or a ‘76mm’ gunned tank (alternate sources claim it either way).

Staff Sergeant Stepan Khristoforovich Gorobets was very much idolised after the Kalinin battles. He was killed in combat in early 1942. Source: warheroes.ru
It is known that 8 tanks entered the city past the airfield into the suburbs. As some of the tanks headed towards the station, tank number ‘3’ of the first group, commanded by Staff Sergeant S. Kh. Gorobets drove with haste westwards past the station. He then took the tank north, crossing the railway lines far to the west of the action, then he turned north, almost making it to the Tver river. His tank then turned east, and with speed he drove the entire length of Kalinin. Along the way, he disabled guns and tanks, and successfully rammed a Panzer III. Here he exited the city on the eastern side unscathed.

The path of tank number ‘3’ though Kalinin. Source: Warfly.ru
Other tanks were less successful, with 7 machines being lost with their crews fighting in Kalinin itself. Most of the crews that made it into the city were lost fighting at the station. One of the confirmed tanks to be lost next to the station is tank number ‘21’. It is known to have fallen into a ditch somewhere around the station, but its exact location has not yet been ascertained.

Tank number ‘21’ likely around the Station. Source: Old Ebay listing

Tank number ‘21’ was an interesting machine, with the numbers “21” painted on the turret rear, and then on the hull and turret right side, no identification numbers appear to have been painted on the left side of the vehicle. Source: Marcel Polak.

Tank number ‘21’ again. Notice the jack block on the rear right side. Source: Author’s private collection.
Shpak’s tank is known to have driven to the station, and it is thought that his machine was destroyed. Other crews killed in Kalinin were those of Vorobyov and Maleev.
The attack was eventually broken off and the tanks of the first and second groups were forced to make their escape back down the Volokolamansk highway, and even back down the Turginovskoye highway, the road that the third group advanced up. It is unknown in what time frame the escape was made.

Tank number ‘6’ was lost on the Volokolamansk Highway. It is thought that this machine was lost on a farm about 1km south of Kalinin. Source: Author’s private collection

Tank number ‘6’ again on the 17th of October. Notice the snow that is very light. Source: Author’s private collection

Attack by Group 3

While the first and second groups advanced up the Volokolamansk highway, the third group advanced with haste up the Turginovskoye highway. Commanded by Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky, the group seems to have met little resistance until the village of Pokrovskoe. Here there was heavy resistance. Nonetheless, the group defeated the Germans and continued north to enter Kalinin.
Once in Kalinin the third group attempted to attack the main train station. It is known that some tanks assisted in the destruction of the airfield between the Volokolamansk and Turginovskoe highways. It is unknown from what direction the third group attacked the station, but it was likely from the north east as the Turginovskoe highway crosses the east-west railway lines.

The paths of group 1,2 and 3. From this aerial view it can be seen that the 21st Tank Brigade was attempting to envelop the station. Source: Warfly.ru
The train station was never successfully recaptured, as the location had been heavily fortified by the Germans. The third group is assumed to have received help from the remnants of the first and second groups, as some of their vehicles are known to have been lost near the station. Here the third group advanced no further.
Many tanks were lost, and the remnants of the third group were forced to withdraw back down the Turginovskoye highway.

Withdrawal

When it became clear that the battle was swinging in favor of the German units, Regimental Commander G. I. Zakalyukin organized and conducted the withdrawal of Soviet forces from the Kalinin area down the Turginovskoye highway. They set up positions at the village of Grishkino. Here the 21st Tank Brigade’s Motorised Rifle Battalion with light tank support was available to assist.

A T-34 with no obvious numbers that was lost near to tank number ‘6’ on the Volokolamansk Highway. This machine is slightly different to other tanks in the 21st Tank Brigade by having exterior fuel tanks. Other than this it is identical to other 21st Tank Brigade tanks. Source: Author’s private collection
Here, over the next two days, major fighting broke out between advancing German units and the Soviets who had survived the assault on Kalinin. Makovsky himself was seriously injured on the 19th of October. At that time, he had taken command of the motorized unit.

A T-34 lost on the Turginovskoye highway. Again, this machine has no numbers, but evidence suggests that not every machine was equipped with painted numbers. Source: Author’s private collection

The recently discovered ’24’, likely from the 21st Tank Brigade. This machine shared technical features with that of ’21’, lost in Kalinin itself. As the turret graffiti suggests, the tank was lost on October 25th 1941, which means that this tank survived the assault, and was lost on the defensive. Source: Francis Pulham Collection.
The entire area was recaptured by the Germans, and fighting involving the 21st Tank Brigade in this sector ended on the 19th of October 1941. Troyanovo, where Maj. Gen Lukin’s body was, was likely recaptured on the 17th of October; but fighting continued around to the east. Lukin’s body remained in the tank, and German soldiers looted the Order of Lenin that he had received during the Khalkin Gol battles in 1939.

Tank number ‘20’ after heavy snow. Source: T-34 The Complete Encyclopedia, M. Kolomiets.
His body was recovered by four boys from the village of Troyanovo, and buried in a small wooded area. His body was later reburied in Kalinin in 1942.
In total, the brigade lost 21 x T-34 tanks, 3 x BT tanks, and a single T-60 tank. The combat records of the 21st Tank Brigade list enemy casualties as 38 tanks, 200 motor vehicles, 82 motorcycles, 70 guns and mortars, 12 fuel trucks, and a large number of soldiers.
The 21st Tank Brigade continued to fight over the winter months, but it was later brought into reserve on the 5th January 1942.

The Traveling Palace in Kalinin was used by the Germans as the grave site for their fallen comrades. All of these graves belong to the men the 21st Tank Brigade killed. Source: Author’s private collection
Kalinin was recaptured during the massive Soviet counterattack in December 1941. During the German occupation, war graves were erected outside of the main church in Kalinin. The two airfields had been requisitioned from the Soviets. Much of the city was destroyed, and Kalinin was the first major city liberated from the Germans.
Kalinin gave the name to the Soviet Kalinin front, which was active from the 17th of October 1941 until the middle of 1943 when the German forces were pushed far away from Moscow.

Conclusion

From the outset, the cards were stacked against the men of the 21st Tank Brigade. Many people have made the case that the Soviet Union needlessly lost two experienced tank commanders and ‘Heroes of the Soviet Union’.
The attack, however, did tie down units that otherwise could have been used further afield. It is also true that the units attacked were severely shaken by the incident. It is quite possible that by sheer numbers, this was one of the most successful Soviet counterattacks conducted to date at that point of the war.
For the first time in the ‘Great Patriotic War’, a coherent brigade assault had been conducted where experienced tank crews assaulted German positions. Not only did they destroy more vehicles than were lost, but they also effectively exploited weak areas, and used teamwork to take out the enemy.
It should not be forgotten, however, that the primary objective was never completed. Soviet High Command had not correctly briefed the crews on the size of the force at Kalinin, and underestimated the numbers of troops here. Not only this, but the attack was conducted with minimal infantry support.
Some sources claim that tank riders were present on a hand full of vehicles at Pushkino, but there is no contemporary evidence for this.
It can also be stated that the T-34s with 57mm guns were not used in an effective role. The 57mm gun was specially designed for tank hunting, and during this battle, the Soviet crews mostly fought guns and trucks, far more suited to a low caliber heavy round such as the 76.2mm round of the F-34 guns of regular T-34s.
The assault was ultimately a failure with regards to its original objective, although schools have been named after members of the 21st Tank Brigade, and statues erected in their honor. It was not so much a physical victory, but it was certainly a victory for morale and of legends.
 
Sources
https://tankfront.ru/ussr/tbr/tbr021.html
https://warfly.ru
https://warspot.ru/5942-kalininskiy-reyd-geroev-halhin-gola
https://obd-memorial.ru/Image2/imagelink?path=89544595-0e86-48af-895f-fc3444c7dc6c
https://mikhaelkatz.livejournal.com/56836.html
https://www.poisk-pobeda.ru/forum/index.php?topic=1636.0
https://obd-memorial.ru/html/info.htm?id=2942165&page=1
https://www.network54.com/Forum/47207/message/1322129472

Private conversations with Pavel Olegovich Varfolomeyev (Russian Army from 1999-2001 and past resident of Tver)